Drug Treatment Services

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:52 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure) 4:52 pm, 16th July 2019

I thank Jeff Smith for securing this debate.

Figures released today show that in Scotland there are more than three deaths a day due to drug use. But who really cares? Who are those people who are dying? It is the homeless; the isolated; the good-for-nothing; the detritus of society. People who inject themselves with poisonous substances do it to themselves—nobody makes them do it. How often have we heard that justification? Nobody is saying it in this place, but we know some people are thinking it.

Through a lack of compassion, but primarily through a lack of understanding, society has created a sub-culture of marginalised people who are pushed to the fringes of our day-to-day consciousness. It has become far too easy to dismiss them, ignore them and exclude them from our cosy lives. Problematic drug users are not getting high for the kicks; they are self-medicating because the pain of everyday life is so great that without the drugs they could not live. The sickness is not the drug use—the pain started long before the addiction. Of the 10% of drug users who develop an addiction, the vast majority have been physically, psychologically or sexually abused. Mix that with financial and aspirational deprivation and it makes a powerful mix that it takes powerful drugs to supress. That is why the support services must be about homelessness, mental health, security, continuity, understanding and compassion—everything that counters the chaos.

When I visited drug consumption rooms in Barcelona, I was particularly struck by one facility: a health centre where people visit their GPs for everyday ailments, which is attached to a hospital that people can be referred to. One part of the health centre is for homeless people to visit and pick up clean clothes, have a shower and shave. Over time, the staff build up a relationship with the clientele and come to understand why they are homeless and what can be done. Another unit attached to the health centre is a drug consumption room; the staff there have exactly the same attitude as the staff in the health centre, the GP surgeries and the homelessness unit. They want to know, “What is your problem, and how can I help?”

That is a million miles away from the stigmatisation that is so common in the UK. The mindset of approaching problematic drug use as a health issue pays great dividends: it is cheaper than pursuing and incarcerating people for drug possession; it frees up the police to fight crime; and, most importantly, it works across the globe. It does not work for everyone; tragically, there will always be drug-related deaths, but as we look at the figures released today let us not forget that thanks to the naloxone available in DCRs, there has never been a death due to overdose in any DCR anywhere in the world. When will the UK Government come to terms with that?