Phoenix Chief Exec Karen Biggs follows up her recent series of blogs ‘My Outrage’ by calling for the final whistle on politicising and stigmatising people who die from their drug use.
Surely it’s time for the final whistle… please!
As we get closer to the UK Summit on Drugs later this month, it is safe to predict I think that drug treatment and the causes and consequences of addiction will become increasingly politicised.
The Political Football
As if we haven’t had enough of drug use and drug treatment being a political football.
Those of us working to provide accessible, effective services for people who want our help, see the consequences of that politicisation at a national and local level.
People in our communities see the devasting impact of failing to follow what the science tells us. Over 5,500 people a year have suffered the ultimate consequence and died of a health condition we know how to treat.
I’m sure one of the reasons drug treatment and those dying from drug use are such easy prey for political footballing is because people who make those decisions, write those headlines, decide that political strategy, feel somehow different from people who are addicted to drugs and access services.
And that sense of difference comes from a lack of understanding about the causes of addiction.
Causes of Addiction
Every two years we ask people who use Phoenix services the questions they probably haven’t been asked before (which may seem hard because people who use drugs and access services have been asked a lot of questions, often the same ones over and over again). But what our Footprints survey sets out to describe are those incidents, factors and life experiences that lead people to our doors. And when we bring those life experiences together we see what we all know instinctively but for me is the biggest indictment on our societies view of addiction;
· 87% of people had experienced trauma 37% of which was sexual abuse
· 67% had a diagnosed mental health condition
· 19% of the men who came to us for help had experienced the Care System as children
· 55% had been homeless
Breaking Down Stigma
My ‘Outrage’ series of blogs has sought to tell some of the stories behind those figures and stories we are told are the things that can build empathy, create a window into the lives of people we feel different to, break down stigma.
At Phoenix 70% of us have personal experience of addiction – either from our own addiction or the experience of our mum’s, dad’s, partner’s, children or close friends. We are no different to anyone else in society, and the thousands of people in treatment and in need of treatment are no different either.
Time to focus
Ultimately more people are dying than ever before because decisions about health interventions are being made by politicians and not clinicians. We know the addiction science, we have a wealth of guidance and experience across the UK, we know how to innovate, we have a sector that is committed focused diverse and passionate.
What we don’t have is adequate money, effective leadership at a national and local level and a level playing field with other health conditions.
For all attending the summit in a few weeks I ask you to blow the final whistle on politicising and stigmatising people who die from their drug use and instead focus on clear leadership to deliver what we know can save lives.