If anyone were to disregard the underlying causes of a mental health condition they would be rightly challenged in the strongest terms. But when it comes to addiction it seems acceptable to judge and shame, and when it comes to addiction to drugs it is a common narrative.
Phoenix has for many years adopted a strategic commitment to speak out against stigma. What that means is we see it as our day job. Not someone else’s issue, not mission drift, not playing with politics but embedded in our day to day work to support people and families affected by addiction. We know how stigma impacts the media portrayal of addiction and we see politicians, decision makers and sadly healthcare professionals all perpetuating stigma. We see their personal belief system affecting their decision making. It can be direct or indirect, conscious, or unconscious, but always works to ‘other’ people in addiction and their families and denies them the rights afford by the law. Let’s be clear; it denies them the healthcare and support afforded to them by law.
We have the right to free healthcare in the UK. But people in addiction don’t get the help they need. Only 40% of people who need treatment in Scotland get it. It’s people in our poorest communities that are most often denied this legal right. That isn’t people choosing not to engage, or not looking for help. Look on any social media site and you will see story after story of desperate people trying to get help and not finding it, or not finding what they want, or not getting it quickly enough. In Scotland and England we have seen an injection of cash to increase access to treatment and improve the quality and availability of treatment. In Scotland the funding was considerable but hasn’t been spent quickly and wisely enough. In England the money awarded to date is a fraction of what is needed to make a real difference.
At the start of the Covid pandemic some of the most gut-wrenching images we saw across the world were of doctors and nurses desperately trying to save the lives of people with this new infection they didn’t understand. In the face of so many patients they were heroically trying everything they could, applying their expertise and experience, experimenting, showing determination and resilience to find a treatment. In 2020 someone under 65 in Scotland was more likely to die of a drugs than Covid.
During the pandemic we have listened to the people who had Covid – their experience of the condition and sadly the relatives of the people lost to the infection. Learning from the lived experience of others is a crucial ingredient to many health care interventions. People with mental health conditions or cancer all play a crucial role in defining their own care plans. And those in recovery from those conditions advocate and support others.
So, back to addiction…
We have a wealth of knowledge and experience developed over the course of the last 50 years that tells us how to treat addiction and support people into a sustainable recovery. We have a research base and we have internationally agreed clinical approaches. Sadly, addiction isn’t new but many across the world have worked from their own area of expertise to create a myriad of approaches to reduce harm and/or support people into treatment and recovery. So imagine then, when people in recovery from addiction have, for over a decade, looked at their friends and peers dying of a condition they know is treatable and you can recover from; indeed they have recovered from. But they see each year more people dying because they can’t get access to the treatment that would save their lives. They see more people falling into addiction due to unaddressed trauma or poverty and fewer and fewer of those people being able to get the help they want. They look around and see people who can pay for treatment get what they want, when they want it. They attend funeral after funeral, mark the lives lost as best they can and still it gets worse.
The Right to Recovery Bill has been written by people in recovery to reinforce the right to free healthcare for people in addiction because the current legal protection isn’t enough. No one wants to have to call for this. To do so is an acceptance of societies failure of our poorest, our most traumatised people at their time of need. It sets out a right to free treatment of your choice. It will allow for accountability, challenge and judicial review where appropriate holistic treatment of choice isn’t offered. The aim of the Bill is to set the Scottish Government ambitions for drug treatment into tangible real life options for people in addiction, a real rights based approach. The benefit will be felt across communities, lives will be saved. So when those people who wrote the Bill came to me and asked me to support them, I said yes. Without hesitation, however I can, speaking up, practical help, making a stand. Because on a personal level my conscience wouldn’t let me do anything else and as a Chief Executive of a charity that provides support for people in addiction and in recovery, it’s my job.
For me, the only reason you wouldn’t support the bill is if:
A – you didn’t understand the current legal system was ineffective
B – you didn’t think people in addiction should get the same healthcare rights as everyone else
I might be wrong – there may be many other justifiable reasons not to. I’m listening, convince me – actually don’t convince me – convince the thousands of families that have lost their loved ones to drugs over the last decade.