Drug abuse debate needs to be moved on
Around this time of year, the announcement of the number of drug deaths in Scotland creates immediate – but passing – comment (“Drug deaths in Scotland reach highest level ever”, 18 August).
The disappointing thing is that the contribution to such a serious debate is the same each year, consisting of approaches to and comments from health professionals, workers in the field, police and the government minister concerned.
All the comments are balanced and helpful, but rarely go beyond either criticising or supporting the use of methadone and rightly pointing out the need to place the individual drug misuser at the centre of any recovery treatment.
I have seldom read that drug (and alcohol) misuse does not take place in a vacuum; rather it takes place in a culture of which each one of us is a participant. Using the metaphor of the iceberg: the iceberg exists because the temperature of the water is too cold. Unless we raise the temperature of the water (Scottish culture), the iceberg will continue to grow.
In 2010, I was invited to chair an independent inquiry into maximising the recovery from dependent drug use in Scotland, and it published its preliminary findings in October 2011.
The inquiry’s work is ongoing. Rather than a blizzard of recommendations, we offer two challenges: the need for a whole-nation approach to changing the culture in which drugs and alcohol misuse takes place; and the “circle of care”, which is a person- centred approach to delivering services to those who misuse drugs and alcohol.
We set ourselves the task of producing a report that is short, easy to read and free from jargon. The report says many of the things that need to be said at the same time as offering hope – not just to those who misuse drugs and alcohol but to those who seek to offer help and support, families and health professionals alike.
More importantly, it speaks directly to the people of Scotland suggesting that we cannot simply “treat” our way out of the intractable problems of drug and alcohol misuse as we have done in the past because – as with the recovery of individuals and communities –Scotland needs the aspiration to change.
Chair – Independent Drugs Inquiry, Scottish Training on Drugs & Alcohol
University of Glasgow
Like sex education, drugs education in Scotland tends to lack a moral element. Pupils are generally just presented with facts about various drugs and their risks to health and wellbeing, as though it is then just up to them to assess the risks and decide freely as they see fit. What tends to be missing is analysis of the implications of drug use for family members, friends, colleagues, the taxpayer, employers, neighbours, and victims of drug-induced crime and accidents.
These negative affects on others take drug abuse out of the realm of personal choice between valid options, and into the realm of moral responsibility.
It is this moral revulsion that motivates refusal to indulge in illegal drug use, not encyclopaedic knowledge of the effects of drugs.
The latest figures produced by the Registrar General on drug related deaths in Scotland shows an alarming increase of 20 per cent in just 12 months, with methadone contributing to a staggering 47 per cent increase in deaths.
The fact that methadone does not work and is often taken in addition to other drugs has been known for years and yet we seem hell bent on prescribing methadone and the inevitable disastrous results it brings.
When are our politicians going to waken up to this problem and adopt the more radical alternatives that have worked for other countries with the courage to commit instead of burying their heads deep in the sand?
It’s an absolute scandal that we continue to “waste” the reported £28.6 million this year – and in future years also, no doubt – on so many that can’t make an easy decision: steer clear of drugs or suffer the consequences.
Craig foot Walk
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