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Doctor and patient in doctor's office

Drug Recovery for All

Kaitlin Dryburgh- 30/09/22

This year we thankfully saw a decrease in the amount of drug deaths, although small it’s a step in the right direction and gives the Scottish government at least some breathing space to carry on working without complete condemnation.

Each year the focus has been on how many drug deaths there have been and how much money is being invested to tackle this. Perhaps little attention is paid to policy direction and healthcare approach, we know that the current Scottish government approaches drug abuse in a much more liberal approach compared to their Westminster counterparts and implements a lot more evidence into their drug policy. They also want to introduce establishments like overdose prevention centres, which has become some what of a political battle between Holyrood and Westminster. Yet it seems that the treatment and recovery of those who are battling with drug problems is maybe at risk of being left in the shadows of public awareness.

We could have zero drug deaths, but can Scotland successfully get people into treatment in a timely manner, and even help some to successfully be free of all drugs. We can save their life but can we also help to provide them with a drug free life? That I believe is a bigger challenge.

Unfortunately I don’t believe that the Scottish government is really considering this or taking it completely seriously, news from last weeks European Federation of Therapeutic Communities (EFTC) Glasgow conference saw no Scottish government representative present. This international conference saw experts, politicians, and campaigners from all over the world attend in the name of creating better rehab outcomes for those battling drug addiction. Yet when the drugs minister Angela Constance had to pull out due to Covid, there was no government representative, Civil servant or any other relevant person working within drugs recovery in Scotland to step in. Scotland has some of the worst statistics when in comes to drug addiction and drug deaths in Europe yet didn’t see the need to attend a conference on their doorstep where world renowned therapists and doctors were speaking. Even on a PR aspect, to just show up and not even listen would have at least been better than being no shows.

Although I admire the liberal stance that this current Scottish government has towards drugs policy, I would also have to agree with criticisms that there is perhaps an over reliance of harm reduction methods. Although they are drastically important, what’s the strategy for recovery and are we providing everyone an opportunity to recover. Two years ago it was reported that only 40% of problem drug users were seeking some form of treatment, and since the majority of Scotland’s drug services have missed their targets, it’s a fair assumption that this figure remains mostly unaltered.

Some reports have already been made that we have a large percentage of people on Opioid Substitute Treatment (OST) who are just stuck, and some who even have to wait to receive OST. The National Mission on Drug Deaths lays out exactly what the government wishes to do and by 2026 the government hopes to have increased statuary funding for rehab placements by 300% bringing the total to an “over-whelming” 1000 places. Now considering there are approximately 57,200 people living in Scotland (18,000 in Glasgow alone) with just opioid drug problems specifically, this is an absolute drop in the ocean of what really needs to take place to make a real impact. We need this number to be higher, a lot higher if we want large scale drugs recovery in Scotland.

Currently there is a strain on rehab services and the number of spaces publicly funded is minimal, in February 2020 an Edinburgh drugs and alcohol rehab centre stated that their taxpayer funded admissions plummeted from 257 to 12 in one year. Currently a high percentage of residents in within Scotland rehab are personally funded or international patients who in some cases have been granted public funding from their home country to attend. Many cannot afford to pay their way through, what can often be expensive rehab stays or afford to wait until a spot becomes available.

Yes it is good that funding has been promised but you can’t help but think that in hindsight the government regret the lack of funding they’ve invested in residential rehabilitation over the years, and realise that’s why they’re having to start all over again.

However, recovery is a long process and heading off to rehab straight away isn’t always an option or an option ever. For many trying to get onto an opioid substitute treatment is the most stable and most appropriate first choice and to make that brave first step there should be a timely response to help them. Yet this isn’t the case for many who seek help, 60% of Scotland’s drug services didn’t give addicts the option to start treatment that first day. This is not only crucial in reducing deaths but dramatically impacts on people’s ability to start their recovery journey. The BBC reported that one women who had approached drug services having had drugs out of her system for two days due to just leaving prison was told that she didn’t present as having a dependency, so was unable to get same day treatment. Although she is drug free now these conditions surrounding eligibility made her recovery journey get off to a rocky start.

More disturbingly approximately 90% of drug services in Scotland were able to provide treatment within three weeks, that is an almost pointless and worrying statistic. Three weeks is too long and shouldn’t even be considered as a target, however it is extremely worrying that 10% were unable to provide this. People having to wait weeks or even months increases the chances of a drug death to a dangerous hight.

Others are having to spend the time and money to travel to England to seek treatment, as often the waits are a lot shorter. Long term drug policy campaigner Peter Krykant had to travel to England in order to receive treatment as the wait times were too long for him at home. For many however, this isn’t an option, and they have no choice but to wait.

The Mental Welfare Commission has described a dire situation for people trying to access treatment for both substance abuse and mental health problems. Quite often these two problems go hand in hand, and it is so important that many can access treatment for both simultaneously, yet there is a collective failure and lack of recognition of this important fact. GPs have found it sometimes impossible, with 90% of surveyed GPS finding it difficult referring patients to addiction and mental health services, while fewer than a quarter of NHS professionals agreed that adequate care and treatment was currently being provided. We need our services to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and although there are great examples of NHS professionals doing an exemplary job they can only do so much when understaffed, over-worked and lacking in resources. We don’t need any more policies or targets, we need investment and more people on the ground, which may seem like fantasy talk after the crazy show of this past week.  

So although we can focus on that yearly number of how many have lost their lives, how much money the government are committing, we also need to know if treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation is at the forefront. We need both harm reduction and recovery options, they need to work together to save lives and give people their life back.

1 thought on “Drug Recovery for All”

  1. Norman Cunningham

    The lead in for this article on the email is confused with last week’s article on EU membership.

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