Problem drug use ‘not a personal failing’, says SDF manifesto

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Problem drug use is neither ‘a lifestyle choice nor a personal failure’, states a new manifesto published by the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF). A culture change in drug treatment is needed to give people the services they want, urges Drugs: policy and aims – a manifesto for Scotland.

Preventing problem drug use means ‘addressing its origins’, the document says, not least the country’s poverty-related social and health inequalities. More support is also needed for families and vulnerable young people, while the views of people with a drug problem should be a key driver of change. ‘A recognised, voiced, empowered presence for people with an active drug problem in making decisions that affect their lives,’ is crucial, it says, and also calls for ‘workforce development activity’ to allow staff to identify and challenge stigmatising practices and improve relationships with their clients.

Among the document’s other recommendations are reviewing the effectiveness of the ‘not fit for purpose’ Misuse of Drugs Act and decriminalising possession of all drugs, expanding use of alternative-to-custody programmes and establishing consumption room facilities across Scotland. This could be done by circumventing the existing legal barriers through ‘the powers of the Lord Advocate’, it says.

The numbers in treatment should be doubled so that 70-80 per cent of the people ‘who could benefit from treatment are actively engaged’, it says, while successful local harm reduction initiatives should be rolled out nationally, with increased investment for HIV and hepatitis testing for anyone with a history of injecting drugs. Services for women also need to be urgently improved, says SDF, to help reduce deaths and ensure mothers are ‘empowered and supported to parent their children’.

Scotland has seen its annual rate of drug deaths – the highest in Europe – continue to grow in recent years, although Nicola Sturgeon’s government has pledged more money for drug services (DDN, February, page 4) and appointed a dedicated minister to lead on the issue (DDN, February, page 5).

David Liddell: cautious optimism in the face of a crisis

‘Very recent changes, including political leadership and investment, are very welcome,’ said SDF CEO David Liddell. ‘We need to build on this and use the current momentum to deliver change. Key to that is developing the capacity to listen to and involve people with a drug problem in the development of better services and strategy. We believe there may be an emerging consensus to address the poverty and stigma which are at the root of the challenge we face in Scotland.  We can also see that a consensus on the benefit and need to improve treatment is well established – there is reason for cautious optimism in the face of what remains a public health crisis.’

Manifesto available at www.sdf.org.uk – read it here