Drug misuse is a health issue

Taking part in a recent political debate, Andrew Horne noticed a keen appetite for policy change.

At a political debate in Inverclyde, led by MP Ronnie Cowan, I shared my professional and personal views on drugs being a health and social care issue rather than a criminal one. It was heartening to hear the other panel members, all from very different backgrounds, share common ground – although for very different reasons.

At Addaction, our 50 years of working with individuals, families and communities, tells us that treatment is the thing that works. Our position is simple: people with drug misuse problems should be diverted out of the criminal justice system and into treatment – a view shared by the Scottish government, who only last week, at the SNP party conference, agreed a motion to decriminalise drugs.

During our debate, several of us discussed this topic with interested members of public. We also heard from Rod Thomson, the Royal College of Nursing’s deputy president. He spoke candidly about how his views of substance misuse changed dramatically as a student nurse, when his community placement showed him the people affected.

On the flipside was panel member Anthony Gielty from The Haven, whose own drug and crime activity saw him spend 15 months of his teenage life in solitary confinement, labelled one of Scotland’s most violent prisoners. After years in prison, he now provides pastoral care to men at The Haven and he’s passionate about recovery and a change in Scotland’s drug policy.

Neil Woods is chair of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) – an organisation made up of people from law enforcement, military and policy backgrounds, who campaign for evidence-based drug policy. As a former police and undercover operative, Neil’s frontline career led to a personal realisation of how punitive measures do not make for cultural change, but can worsen the bigger picture.

Last, but not least, we heard from Mike McCarron, one of the founders of Transform Drug Policy Foundation Scotland, who brings tangible empathy to his diverse work.

Our audience held nothing back in the debate that followed. Their honesty, insights, beliefs and determination reminded us that we are not fighting a losing battle. People from all walks of life share common ground when it comes to issues like this – and seeing this gave us all hope.

Lessons have been learned, culture is changing and there’s no doubt that pressure is rising on decision-makers to change policy. At our own services within Addaction Scotland, we see every day how change is possible in the most testing of times.

Andrew Horne is Addaction’s director for Scotland

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