New drug & alcohol strategy to ‘take a health approach’ to substance abuse

Ben Wray

The new strategy was welcomed by MSPs and MPs cross-party

THE Scottish Government’s new strategy on drugs & alcohol will seek to treat wider structural problems like housing and employment issues, taking “a health approach” to the issue of substance abuse.

The strategy, published today [28 November] includes a “public health approach to criminal justice” where “vulnerable people are diverted from the justice system wherever possible, and those within justice settings are fully supported”, suggesting a move away from criminalisation approaches associated with ‘the war on drugs’, a strategy which has been widely condemned by criminal justice experts.

Additionally, families are encouraged to participate in the treatment of individuals and a prevention and early intervention approach for young people who are most at risk of addiction to drugs & alcohol is also emphasised.

Launching the strategy at Gowrie Care’s Cairn Centre in Dundee, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Improving how we support people harmed by drugs and alcohol is one of the hardest and most complex problems we face. But I am clear that the ill-health and deaths caused by substance misuse are avoidable and we must do everything we can to prevent them.

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“This means treating people and all their complex needs, not just the addiction, tackling the inequalities and traumas behind substance misuse, and intervening early to prevent people at risk.

“We are supporting this strategy with an additional £20 million a year on top of our considerable existing investment in drug and alcohol treatment and prevention.

“We want to see innovative, evidence-based approaches, regardless of whether these make people uncomfortable. This money mustn’t just produce more of the same.”

Gowrie Care managing director Joy Dunlop said:

“Gowrie’s ethos encourages innovation so that services remain relevant and we continue to deliver meaningful outcomes for the people we support – key to this is ensuring the people we support are at the heart of everything we do.

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“The Scottish Government’s investment is very much welcomed and will support the fantastic work that our staff and others in the sector do to support people in recovery.”

Politician’s cross-party welcomed the new strategy.

Scottish Greens health spokesperson Alison Johnstone MSP said: “The Scottish Greens have always believed that drug problems should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal issue. This new strategy marks a welcome shift in attitude.

“The promised focus on prevention must be backed up with investment in housing, education and mental health services, so people are better able to live better lives.” 

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Scottish Labour’s Health spokesperson Monica Lennon MSP welcomed the new approach, but called on the Scottish Government to “declare a public health emergency on alcohol and drugs harm”

Lennon said: “During the lifetime of the Scottish Government’s last alcohol and drugs strategy, 15,000 people in Scotland lost their lives.

“We can’t afford another decade of alcohol and drugs related deaths.

“Scottish Labour welcomes the new government strategy and will take time to consider the detail but are calling on the government to declare a public health emergency on alcohol and drugs harm and use the full force of government to tackle it.

“People and families affected by alcohol and drugs harm, especially in our most deprived communities, need hope.

“Scottish Labour will keep calling for radical action, an end to poverty and a public-health approach to tackling alcohol and drugs harm.”

READ MORE – Jamie Wood: We need to break the stigma around drug addiction and normalise intervention

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan MP, vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on drug policy reform, said the strategy would help “remove the stigma associated with addiction”

Cowan stated: “I am delighted that the SNP Government’s strategy is unashamedly focused on health care and comfortably combines alcohol and drugs in many aspects of the defined support and treatment. This goes a long way to remove the stigma associated with addiction.

“Importantly this strategy clearly defines the need to work with partners across healthcare, academia, law enforcement and welfare. Problematic use is a complex issue and there are no easy solutions but without doubt improved education and support, the provision of drug consumption rooms and the availability of naloxone are all steps in the right direction.

“This is a recovery orientated strategy that puts the most vulnerable in our society at its heart.”

Picture courtesy of Sacred Heart