Drugs Strategy

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:05 pm on 1st March 2000.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 5:05 pm, 1st March 2000

We now move on to members' business. The debate is on motion S1M-563, in the name of Johann Lamont, on drugs strategy. Those members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the serious and increasing level of drug addiction in Glasgow Pollok constituency, in Glasgow as a whole and throughout Scotland; recognises the devastating effect that such addiction has not only on the addict but on his or her family, friends and the broader community; applauds the work of the Glasgow Association of Family Support Groups in offering support and counselling to drug addicts and their families, and believes that the development of effective funding of such family support groups is a key part of its drugs and social inclusion strategies.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 5:08 pm, 1st March 2000

Thank you for the opportunity to debate the motion, Presiding Officer. I like this lectern—I suspect that it is the nearest that I will ever get to a dispatch box, so I intend to enjoy it.

We in Scotland—particularly in Glasgow—are in crisis in terms of drug addiction. In 1999, there was an increase in drug-related deaths of 29 per cent in Glasgow. The increase in drug-related deaths in the wider Strathclyde area was 85 per cent. Those figures do not take into account deaths, including suicide, that are indirectly related to drug addiction.

An analysis carried out on behalf of the greater Glasgow drug action team of 62 such deaths in Glasgow revealed that the average age of the deceased was 28. Furthermore, 84 per cent of the deceased were male and 24 per cent had been released from prison less than two weeks before their deaths. Heroin alone was the cause of 30 per cent of the deaths. Heroin along with other drugs accounted for 47 per cent of the deaths. There was also evidence of increased chaotic drug use among those who had died.

Those are grim statistics. However, for many people in our communities, the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and dependent children of drug addicts—it is estimated that a third of addicts have dependent children—those are not statistics, but many individual tragedies.

In this debate, I want to draw attention to the impact of drug addiction not only—so tragically—on drug addicts themselves, but on their families. Someone who is involved in a local support group in my constituency told me that all families of drug addicts live in fear of the knock at the door. They live with the embarrassment, anger, deep sadness and fear that are created through the fact that one of their loved ones is lost to drugs.

We know that drug addiction impacts massively in particular communities, and that any solutions must acknowledge the interests of the broader community and the families as well as those of the individual. A recent social work report highlighted the fact that 95 per cent of the estimated problematic drug-using population in Glasgow is located in communities that are classified, according to the Carstairs deprivation index, as being most deprived. There is a need to recognise that the social regeneration of deprived areas must be an element of service provision for drug abusers, and that service provision should not be restricted to treatment of the addiction. We need more than medical solutions.

I was privileged to meet the Glasgow Association of Family Support Groups and a member of greater Pollok's family support group. They emphasised that one of the problems that they have to tackle, when dealing with the drug crisis, is that the needs of the family are often forgotten. Because of the stigma that is associated with drug taking in a family, people often come to support groups reluctantly and only when they are in crisis. The motion suggests that such groups offer direct counselling to addicts, but they do not: it is through working with the families that the groups come into contact with the addicts.

Through 32 groups in the city and 26 affiliated groups beyond the city boundaries—including groups in Dublin and the Isle of Man—the Glasgow Association of Family Support Groups undertakes crucial work in sustaining and supporting families in crisis who are often grieving. That work is generally undertaken by volunteers and sustained by very limited social work and health board funding. More often, funds are raised by the individual groups.

We should not regard the drug problem as a theoretical dilemma on which we can make academic judgments based on the options for treatment that are available. We must listen to the experiences of local people, as they are probably our greatest resource in tackling the drug crisis. Such people have told me of the problems of someone who is coming off drugs. They have told me that being a drug addict is a busy life that involves the constant search for money to buy drugs. In dealing with addicts, we must address ways in which they can be supported and kept active when they are not on drugs.

We must also acknowledge the work that is being done to support the children of addicts. It is now common in our communities for grandparents to take on the difficult role of parenting children whose parents are suffering. They know how and where drugs are being dealt, and they tell us—very worryingly—that young people are starting to use them earlier.

There is a problem with the funding of family support groups, which is all the more acute because of the direct link between drug abuse and deprivation. Because the Glasgow group provides a Glasgow-wide service, it cannot access funds through local social inclusion partnership groups. Locally, the family support group often offers individual support and may not be regarded as appropriate for SIP moneys. I hope that the minister will consider ways in which that problem can be tackled in the future.

Sadly, there are grounds for pessimism in the figures that have been compiled by Glasgow City Council's social work department and the drugs action team. The figures suggest that a serious problem is becoming more serious still. Nevertheless, through meeting family support groups and listening to their views, we are also given grounds for optimism. As a mother contemplating the future for my own children, I stand in awe of the parents in those groups, who face the worst imaginable prospect of their children being lost to drugs. Such people will work to support others in the deepest trouble simply because that work needs to be done, not because there is anything to be gained for themselves. There can be no better basis for our solutions for Scotland in the 21st century than in recognising that people will carry out that work willingly.

During my visit to the office of the Glasgow Association of Family Support Groups, I viewed a room that was hung on all sides with quilts and embroidery made by people who had lost their children, friends or relatives to drugs. A roll call of names and faces stands as testimony not to the statistics, but to the huge waste of human life that drugs have visited on us. Through its drugs strategy, I trust that the Executive will find the means to tackle the scourge that is addiction. I also hope that it will find the means of funding those who seek to deal with the fallout from that drug addiction, which is suffered by far too many of our families and communities. I hope that members will involve themselves in this debate.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 5:15 pm, 1st March 2000

I am glad to support Johann Lamont's motion. There can be no doubt about the effect that addiction to drugs—hard drugs in particular—has on families and communities. She spoke about it more eloquently than I could.

We must give serious consideration to properly structured provision for the family support groups.

I realise that many sincere efforts have been made in the past, but perhaps those have not been structured enough. I hope that the minister will address that issue in his speech.

I must question one aspect of the motion. It discusses drug addiction, but to which drugs does it refer? Who are the addicts? We must be more definitive. We must listen to people whose lives are being ruined now. However, to provide a drugs strategy, we must understand which drugs are being used by whom, why, where and when.

I was disappointed when Keith Halliwell, on his visit here, suggested that the police should be left to decide which users of cannabis should be lifted and which should be left. Should it be young addicts, in desperately poor parts of Scotland, who use cannabis between hits of heroin, or should it be the 50-year-old professors in universities throughout Scotland who listen to a compact disc with a glass of red wine and roll up, as they probably have done since they were 17 or 18 years of age? To leave it to the police to decide who will have the law applied to them does not constitute part of a strategy towards coping with drug use.

Although the motion is correct in so far as it goes, it is limited. What is the objective of the drugs strategy? Are we going to learn to live with drugs, as I do not think that there is a society in the world that does not live with mood-altering or mind-altering substances? We must decide what we will put up with and we must decide what is beyond the pale and put all our resources into preventing that. I do not want to put up with cigarettes and, believe it or not, I do not even want to put up with lots of hard drink, but I have to.

We must consider the consumption of all drugs. I appreciate that Johann Lamont's concern is the effect of hard drug addiction on her constituency and the people whom she represents and I sympathise with her. However, when the minister replies, will he give us a hint that his thinking is wider than that?

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour 5:18 pm, 1st March 2000

I congratulate Johann Lamont on securing this debate and on the content of her speech. It was well researched and I will not add any facts to it. The situation in Glasgow is well known and well documented, and Johann has highlighted it again. It cannot be highlighted too often, but we must look for solutions.

In answer to Margo MacDonald's point about what we are talking about in terms of dealing with drugs, it would be naive to think that drug abuse could be eliminated—essentially, we are talking about containment. That is a fact in many countries throughout the world—sadly, Scotland is one of them and Glasgow has the most serious problems in Scotland. However, it is not just an urban issue; it is a rural issue. Drug abuse is frighteningly widespread.

We must find out why young people are increasingly becoming involved in drug abuse. I was surprised by the statistic that Johann Lamont mentioned, which indicated that the average age of those found dead in Glasgow was 28. I had thought that it would be less than that. That shows that the problem is perhaps even more widespread than had been appreciated, but an increasing number of young people are becoming involved in drug abuse.

I had an involvement—in a previous life—with the Glasgow Association of Family Support Groups, to which Johann Lamont referred. I have a huge amount of respect for it and the work that it does, which is almost totally in a voluntary context. I increasingly came across families who were touched by the scourge of drugs. As Margo said, we must also talk about tobacco and alcohol—it would be fatuous to suggest that that is not a problem and that people are not addicted to both—but I am particularly concerned with hard drugs. We know what we are talking about. We know what kills so many of our young people, particularly in the west of Scotland. The figures continue to rise.

When I talk to families of youngsters who have been lost to drugs, I am particularly struck by the fact that, increasingly, it emerges that there was a sense of hopelessness. People say, "I have nothing at all, so what have I got to lose?" They say, "Give me some hope. Give me the chance of some training, a job or a house. Give me the possibility of raising a family. Perhaps then I would not get involved." We would not find so many young people lying in an alley with a needle in their groin if they were trainee accountants, young lawyers or young financial advisers. That is not to say that none of the people found is, but almost exclusively they are people who have no job, perhaps no home and certainly a complete lack of hope.

I am a member of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee. Last week, we had a briefing from Laurence Gruer, who is in charge of drug abuse treatment at Greater Glasgow Health Board. The figures that he gave us left us in no doubt of the seriousness of the problem.

I urge the minister in his reply to stress the link between drug abuse and poverty, which the previous Government all too often failed to acknowledge. It is now acknowledged that there is a clear causal link between the two. Any drugs strategy must be linked to the whole question of social inclusion. We need to give people hope and the opportunity of training, a job, a house and a future.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I do not disagree with a word that the member has said about the use of some drugs by some people who are socially excluded. However, drug taking and drug abuse are not confined to poor people. People in universities and people who have a lot of money to spend use cocaine, for example.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

I accept that. I was not suggesting that it was exclusively young people and people suffering deprivation, in its various forms, who take drugs. However, of the people who die from the use of drugs, the proportion from those categories is far higher. That is the most serious problem.

I will not say any more. I look forward to the minister's summing up. I congratulate Johann Lamont again on securing this debate on a very important subject.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 5:22 pm, 1st March 2000

I will be as brief as I can, as I know that many members have an interest in this subject. I congratulate Johann Lamont on securing the debate and on bringing the issue before the Parliament. The sentiments expressed are noble. I am sure that no one in the chamber or elsewhere will take issue with the detail.

The effects of drug use, misuse and abuse are evident to many of the constituents of Glasgow Pollok who deal with those effects minute by minute. Unfortunately, that lifestyle is shared in all too many communities in Scotland. Those communities can be as large as a constituency, or far smaller—confined to a village or a street—but the effects are none the less devastating.

Addicts often commit crime in their back yard to feed their habit. They give the area in which they live a reputation for being unsafe and subject to crime, which in turn punishes everyone, not just the families. We are all affected to a greater or lesser extent.

The families of addicts see their husband, wife, son or daughter—whatever the relationship is—become aloof. Most important, they see them change beyond recognition, which causes anxiety and concern. I am often told of addicts who appear to their families to be in denial throughout their addiction. People sometimes miss the signs. Once the problem is revealed, it causes even more distress. People say, "How could I have missed it? How could this happen to us?" Organisations such as the Glasgow Association of Family Support Groups, which are of such value to communities, fight back against drugs. Thanks to them, families have somewhere to turn when they try to rationalise their loved one's actions and motivations.

Such organisations fulfil a role that is far wider reaching than that, but we often forget the work that they undertake with families, concentrating instead on the problems and solutions for addicts. Just as, all too often, we consider offenders before victims, we talk of the addicts, not the families. That is wrong and indefensible.

If proof of the disparity were ever required, the disclosed public expenditure in each area of activity is clear evidence of the gulf. The funding of organisations that are dedicated to the treatment and counselling of addicts and their families is a most efficient and effective use of funds.

I congratulate all concerned on their efforts to date. I would like to see funding significantly improved in time through redirection of current funds away from less effective projects and through direct increases in funding from local and national Government. I am sure that we can all think of examples of where money could be better spent.

Family support groups provide a vital link between the affected and the authorities, restoring faith and trust and reassuring communities that action is being taken to solve the drug problems that they know exist. Thank goodness there are those who care enough to help in that way. I only hope that this Parliament can help them in equal proportion, to the benefit of our whole society. I thank Johann Lamont for bringing the issue to our attention and thank members for their time.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 5:25 pm, 1st March 2000

It is very appropriate that Johann Lamont has brought this matter before the Parliament. In some respects, it is a pity that it is being debated after the day's main business.

It is vital that we recognise that Glasgow is a special case. The most recent report from Glasgow City Council social work department—of which, I am sure, the minister is aware—showed that not only are there five times as many drug addicts in Glasgow as there are anywhere else in Britain, but the number of problem drug users has doubled in the past nine years. That follows on from the previous debate, because it means that the social work services that are devoted to dealing with those serious, deep-rooted problems are at breaking point. Johann Lamont is calling for support for networks such as family support groups precisely because they are being forced to take up the slack and intervene to provide essential support services.

I ask the minister to consider the appeal that Glasgow City Council's leader has made for a special payment that recognises addiction problems, because at the moment no such payment is available from central Government. Glasgow has between 12,419 and 15,368 registered problem drug users, and it cannot continue to deal with the problem with the limited funds that are currently available to it.

I will make only one more point, as I want to give other members an opportunity to speak. In the course of today's debate and of the investigation that is being carried out by the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, I hope that we will consider approaches apart from law enforcement. I would argue that far too much money is spent on enforcement and far too little on treatment—erecting treatment centres and dealing medically and socially with ordinary people who fall into these addictions. After 10 years of a clear campaign of "Just say no", in all its various forms, the number of problem drug addicts in Glasgow has doubled. The strategy is not working, and we need to address that. If that means changing the law, let us be brave enough to do it.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat 5:28 pm, 1st March 2000

I do not often agree with Tommy Sheridan, but I agree with the last point that he made. I think that the emphasis of Executive policy is wrong, and the minister knows that I think that. There is too much emphasis on enforcement and not enough on treatment and prevention.

I have omitted the elementary courtesy of congratulating Johann Lamont on obtaining this debate and on her speech. This is a very important issue and is part of the wider issue of tackling drug misuse. Mike Watson is absolutely right. I am glad that in this chamber we have got away from using the ridiculous language of a war on drugs—quite frankly, if we are waging a war on drugs, we lost it years ago. This is about containment, harm reduction and using the best ways of helping addicts. That is why I believe that the emphasis of Executive policy is too much on cutting supply and not enough on cutting demand. By cutting demand, I mean helping addicts into harm reduction or treatment, whether it be day care treatment or residential treatment.

The problem is very serious in Glasgow, but it is also serious elsewhere. There are 5,000 injecting addicts in Fife, part of the region that I represent. There are health services and treatment services in Fife that are, quite frankly, a scandal. There are four needle exchangers for 5,000 injecting addicts. As the health board itself describes the situation, this has resulted in a hepatitis C time bomb.

The local family support groups are crucial for a number of reasons, a fact that has long been recognised by the 12-step fellowships. Alcoholics Anonymous has the sister organisation, Al-Anon, to help the families of alcoholics. We need support groups for the families of addicts, to help them to access treatment among other things. Some of the parents of addicts are the bravest, most courageous people I have ever met. Some of them have had to fight hard to access funding for treatment, from health boards and from councils, to get their children into treatment centres, then into halfway houses, away from the streets where they encounter their dealers virtually every day. The local family support groups can play an enormously important role in that.

Margo MacDonald is right. We need a much more structured approach. That these organisations tend to spring up, usually from the grass roots, is great; it is absolutely right. LADA—Locals Against Drugs in Alloa—is one example. I recently met the two women who run LADA. They are admirable in what they try to do in an increasingly large area, going well beyond Alloa. We have to give them support, by helping them to find places to meet and to access funding and so on. We have to help them with the kind of services that the family support groups can provide—everything from support for accessing treatment and aftercare to, sadly, bereavement counselling and outreach into schools.

That requires money. The minister has found £10.5 million for the highly controversial drugs enforcement agency that has now been established. I hope that he will turn his attention and his emphasis more to treatment and prevention. The Social Inclusion, Housing and the Voluntary Sector Committee, in its current inquiry into drug misuse in deprived areas, will help him to do so. I hope that that will accelerate the process.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I call the minister to wind up for the Executive and apologise sincerely to those members who have been unable to speak in the debate.

Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour 5:32 pm, 1st March 2000

I begin by apologising to members. It will not be possible to address in detail the wide range of issues that have been raised in the debate so far.

I thank Johann Lamont for raising this subject for debate. It is clear, not only from this debate but from the recent all-day debate on drugs, that everyone here is genuinely concerned about drug misuse, not simply because of its effects on the individuals directly involved, but because of its effect on families and friends. Johann's motion recognises that.

I put on the record something that is particularly important. It is absolutely true that the pain and devastation that follow an individual's drug misuse need to be directly addressed among those who suffer as a consequence. That should be recognised from the outset. We have to attempt to turn that hurt into some kind of weapon to prevent future generations of young Scots falling into the same problems. That is an argument for us to properly harness the resources to the experience of those individuals, and to their commitment to turning their own experience into a positive advantage for their communities in future. It is important to put that on the record.

Partnership—a much-abused term—is at the heart of our strategy as an Executive, through the "Tackling Drugs in Scotland" strategy document. I sometimes wonder, when I hear comments from individual members and those outside this chamber, whether they have read the document and genuinely acknowledge the approach that the Executive is taking. We are not a one-club Executive, going down the enforcement path only. We want to see a properly balanced approach, with enforcement as an important part of the equation but, just as important, we want to see effective treatment care, rehabilitation and education. We are trying to tackle that both in terms of policy and in terms of resources.

The partnership to which I am alluding applies not only across the Executive, but to the key agencies in the field. It implies a true partnership with those who are affected by drug misuse in our communities. As Johann Lamont has recognised, drug misuse has a devastating impact, far beyond an individual's addiction. Parents, partners, grandparents, whole families, friends and entire communities are caught up in that misery. As a consequence, our policies must recognise the need for a strong and meaningful community voice that comes from homes, schools and local organisations such as the support groups, to bring forward the vital local knowledge about the services that are needed and how we then map the way forward for those services and policies.

I will say something in a moment about the specific steps we are taking to support the families and friends of drug misusers. First, I want to speak about our overall approach. It is only by making progress across a broad front that we will make a lasting impact on the lives of the people that Johann Lamont talked about so knowledgeably.

There are 22 drug action teams implementing the local drug strategy across Scotland. They bring together the work of local authorities, health boards, police forces, the voluntary sector and others. The Executive will shortly be publishing a drugs action plan that will show what we have done so far, what we are doing now and what we will do in the future to tackle drugs misuse. That document will include the action we will be taking to encourage drug action teams and individual agencies to listen carefully to those suffering from drug problems and to their families, and to engage their support in developing and implementing our policies on enforcement, rehabilitation and education.

Proper community support and development is vital. In my discussions with drug action teams I have directly and repeatedly emphasised the importance of community involvement in their work. We will be reviewing this issue with the teams as part of the follow-up work arising from their reports to us. I expect to see clear support for community involvement being given by the agencies that make up drug action teams.

Tommy Sheridan raised an important point about Glasgow and made a plea for it to be treated as a special case. There is no doubt that in terms of the size of the problem, that is so; however, there is a drug problem in almost every community in Scotland and they all call for treatment, resources and action, so it is difficult to distinguish one part of Scotland.

I emphasise that we are putting new and extra money behind the implementation of the strategy. As Keith Raffan said, we have put in £10 million to establish the Scottish drugs enforcement agency, to try to bring drive and coherence to the way we counter the drugs trade. There is £6 million extra for treatment services over a three-year period. We have doubled to £1 million the money for supporting and running local drug action teams. There will be more than £3 million over the next three years to expand the drug testing and treatment pilots, to help offenders break their dependency before re-entering communities.

I have already announced an additional £1 million to the Scotland Against Drugs campaign to increase its existing community and business work. With that action we want to support further participation in anti-drug activities by community and local business groups, to make it clear how they can play a positive role and convince them that if they get involved in the fight, they can make a difference.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

If I may make a brief intervention, is the bulk of the money coming from the £13 million removed from the Scottish Prison Service budget? That would cause considerable concern because prison authorities fear that they will not be able to go ahead with renovations as a result of losing that money. Is the minister referring to that money?

Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour

No, I am not. The Scottish Prison Service budget is increasing year on year. The £13 million came from end-year surplus, money that had not been spent in previous years' budgets.

Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour

Renovations will continue.

The Glasgow Association of Family Support Groups is working with the Glasgow drug action team, the Greater Glasgow Health Board and Glasgow City Council to draw up proposals for more counselling and development staff to work with parents. I wish the association well in that work and will continue to take a close interest. I was pleased to hear that the health board and the council support the association's bid for a counsellor and that other forms of support are under discussion.

We all know about the problems that accompany drugs misuse for drug users, families of drug users and the wider community, and we know that they are serious. Those problems need to be high on everyone's agenda. We believe that the Executive's strategy represents the biggest ever co-ordinated attack on drugs misuse in Scotland. It will take time, but it will help young people resist drugs, and will help prevent misery for many families.

It is right and appropriate that this Parliament has acknowledged the role of family support groups and has registered its support for them today. Once again, I thank Johann Lamont for raising this issue for debate.

Meeting closed at 17:40.