I believe SNP minister do want to take a transformational approach to tackling Scotland’s drug-death emergency, but they must realise the methadone programme is not fit for purpose, writes Miles Briggs.
It is now estimated that there are more than 61,500 people in Scotland between the age of 15 and 64 who are problematic drug users – that’s the equivalent of the size of a Scottish Parliament constituency.
Sadly, that number has significantly increased from the 52,000 Scots it was estimated had an addiction problem in 2007 when the then First Minister Alex Salmond promised the SNP Scottish Government would lead a “step change” in the way that Scotland deals with substance misuse problems.
Scotland’s Drug and Alcohol Partnerships have become the Cinderella of our national health services. Most recently SNP ministers destabilised the sector even further by cutting £20 million in funding from projects. Decisions to cut funding are still being felt today and, as I write this article, vital local services are being closed.
The third sector is often at the front line of providing vital support services and I believe it is time they were given an enhanced opportunity in Scotland to step up to help support more addicts, their families and the communities, who are often left on their own to support vulnerable individuals.
Open minds required
I welcome the step by Scottish ministers to establish the Drugs Deaths Taskforce led by Professor Catriona Matheson, of the University of Stirling, and had, in fact, called on Nicola Sturgeon to establish such a group three years ago. I recently met with Professor Matheson and welcome some of the positive proposals the new taskforce is already developing.
Despite not being directly involved, I have been trying to influence the agenda of the taskforce and have put the need for better access to mental health services for addicts at the top of the agenda. I genuinely hope the taskforce is taking forward its work with an open mind.
Since the day I was elected, I have consistently called for all politicians to come together and develop a radical new approach to drug addiction treatment and recovery in Scotland.
That starts with us being honest and admitting that for more than 30 years we have seen, at the heart of our drug treatments in Scotland, a methadone programme which is simply not fit for purpose and which has offered little or no road to recovery for addicts.
That may be a controversial thing to say but the facts speak for themselves – methadone was implicated in almost 50 per cent of drug-related deaths in Scotland. That should surely demand a critical rethink of the main tool being used today in Scotland to try to treat substance misuse.
Not good enough
I have sat in a number of meetings over the years with SNP ministers where I have called on them to undertake a review of the methadone programme – to date they have given me only excuses as to why the Scottish Government does not want to undertake a review. That is simply not good enough.
If SNP ministers genuinely want to take a transformational approach to turn the drug deaths emergency in Scotland around, and I believe they do, then we need to take forward a radical and new approach to drug and alcohol abuse, treatment, education and recovery.
Only then will we as a country be able to deliver the real change that will save lives now and prevent a future generation of drug deaths and substance abuse.
Let’s make 2020 the year we start to fix Scotland’s drug deaths crisis.
Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for Lothian.