The proposed ‘Right to addiction recovery (Scotland)’ bill would ‘further disempower’ people presenting to treatment services and create an oppositional rather than therapeutic relationship between providers and service users, says a joint statement from organisations in the Scottish drugs field.
Consultation has just closed on the bill, which has been proposed by leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross MSP and is intended to ‘enable people addicted to drugs and/or alcohol to access the necessary addiction treatment they require’.
However the signatories of the joint statement, which include the Scottish Drugs Forum, Release, The Scottish Recovery Consortium and HIV Scotland, assert that the bill’s proposals would result in ‘unintended consequences’ detrimental to the improvement of the country’s treatment system. Scotland’s drug-related death rate remains significantly higher than anywhere else in Europe, while the country’s alcohol-specific death rate was also up by a fifth last year (DDN, September 2021, page 4).
‘The evidence is that treatment is key to protecting people from drug-related deaths and supporting people with problem substance use more broadly,’ the statement reads, with the Scottish system overall lacking the ‘quality, diversity and capacity’ to fulfil its potential in protecting people from drug-related harm and death. While the draft bill’s proposals represent a welcome opportunity to raise awareness and promote discussion, they also threaten cross-party consensus, risk replacing a rights-based approach with a legislative approach, and ‘consolidate the idea that people with an addiction are not to be extended the rights afforded under the Equality Act to other people with significant health conditions’, it states.
The bill aims to ‘enshrine the right’ to treatment in Scottish law and ensure that people can access a preferred treatment option, including residential and community-based services, unless deemed harmful by a medical professional. However, its proposals are also ‘based in a false premise about the aims of treatment and a narrowly focussed recovery – about abstinence rather than quality of life’, said SDF CEO David Liddell. ‘That served as the premise of The road to recovery strategy that was so damaging to Scotland in the past – a strategy that the drugs field and the wider policy context has now moved well beyond. This wider view of recovery is vital if we are to deliver on reducing drug-related deaths.’
The proposals risked further disempowering people from seeking treatment by ‘giving others the power of veto over their treatment choice’, he said, something that also risked damaging the ‘establishment and development of a therapeutic relationship on which the success of all drug treatment ultimately depends. And lastly, the bill would be neither sufficiently radical nor bold enough to achieve its aims. People with a drug problem will have the rights they need and deserve, when they are fully recognised under the Equality Act – an act which currently enshrines in law their stigmatisation and marginalisation by explicitly excluding them.’
Right to recovery to tackle Scotland’s drug deaths at www.parliament.scot
Joint Statement in response to the proposal by Douglas Ross MSP for a ‘Right to recovery’ bill in Scotland at www.sdf.org.uk