The Renfrewshire Alcohol and Drugs Commission heard first-hand evidence from more than 300 people and organisations who had their own personal or professional experience of alcohol and drug use in the council area, which has some of the highest levels of harm caused by alcohol and drug use in Scotland.
The area saw 100 drug and alcohol-related deaths in 2019, and had 808 alcohol-related hospital admissions per 100,000 population in 2018/19.
The commission, which began in 2019, published its results on Friday.
In response, Renfrewshire councillors will next week consider the first set of funding proposals from a £2 million package of investment from the council to tackle some of the challenges raised.
These include £510,000 for mental health programmes, £550,000 for community and pee-to-peer support, and £150,000 for education and health improvement as well as a further study to understand the “hidden harm” of those who have not reached out for help.
The commission found that people’s complex mental health needs meant they often struggled to find someone to talk to and get the right support they need – especially the case for young people.
Long waits for mental health services, people having to turn to emergency services in a crisis and the significant trauma people have experienced were all seen as significant barriers.
Problems associated with alcohol and drug abuse were exacerbated by Covid-19, the commission found, with key drivers for drug and alcohol use such as loneliness and isolation on the rise.
Chair of the Renfrewshire Alcohol and Drugs Commission and Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership Integrated Joint Board, Councillor Jacqueline Cameron, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has had a big impact on people struggling with alcohol and drug use and we know isolation has made it worse for many people and their families across Renfrewshire. What has been made very clear is the amount of hidden suffering that so many people suffer, unable to reach out and access support and sometimes not feeling part of a community that can support them.
“We hope this will fundamentally transform the support that people who use drugs and alcohol and their families can access when they need it most. The pandemic has brought these issues into sharp focus and we are determined to make a difference. Our new approach will make it easier for people to access the support within their own community and be there whenever they need it.”
Karyn McCluskey, Chief Executive of Community Justice Scotland, said that recovery relies on feeling part of the community and that people with lived experience of alcohol and drug use can offer much-needed community and peer support to each other.
She said: “Feeling connected to someone who cares and is prepared to listen seems such a small thing – yet it is the difference between life and death for many.
“The stigma of addiction can lead to isolation and a deep shame, getting support from people who have their own lived experience of addiction can be the first step in a journey of recovery and wellbeing.
“This is not a low cost, no cost endeavour. We must ensure that these services are where and when people need them and are funded over multiple years so that people develop the sustained relationships with people whom they know and trust.”