Response to the Scottish Affairs Committee Report on Problem Drug Use

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4 November 2019

Response to the Scottish Affairs Committee Report on Problem Drug Use

Published 4th November 2019


The Scottish Affairs Committee have reported today the findings from their review of Drug Use in Scotland. This is following the publication of the Health and Social Care Select Committee report on 23rd October.

The concerns of the two committees are very similar, and include - 

  • The significant impact cuts to drug treatment spend has had on the availability and accessibility of services
  • The devasting impact of stigma on people’s ability to access services and treatment
  • The social and economic causes of problematic substance misuse

And both committees call for similar things

  • Recognition that the number of people dying from drugs isn’t acceptable, is preventable and should be declared a priority by governments
  • Urgent investment in services that we know work, across multiple disciplines, health, homelessness, employability
  • A need for a health approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system into treatment
  • Transfer of responsibility for treatment from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care
  • An encouragement to pilot new approaches and to innovate using evidence based approaches and learning from other countries

Drug related deaths are at the highest level ever recorded in Scotland since records began in 1997.

What has happened that means we are allowing more people to die than ever before of a condition we know how to treat?

The committee have used the evidence of experts to gain real insight into the causes and consequences of addiction and the increase in drug related deaths;

The socio economic factors certainly have had an impact - you are 17 times more likely to use drugs problematically in the most deprived areas of Scotland than in the least deprived areas. The same pattern can be seen in England too. That doesn’t mean that poverty forces people into addiction but people who experience poverty are more likely to also experience the issues we do know lead people to problematic drug use –unemployment, unstable housing, adverse or traumatic experiences in childhood. And to make the whole situation worse, poverty makes it so much more difficult to recover from problematic drug use. The causes of the addiction become in themselves the barriers to accessing treatment and support.

We have seen a deterioration in health and social care across the UK as a result of austerity - those services that existed to support people when the informal community mechanisms of support weren’t there have been decimated. It’s led to an increase in mental health problems, an increase in homelessness and people hitting crisis point without any health and social care intervention in their lives.    

The committee also heard of the significant impact of new drugs being used on top of the more traditional opiates.  In Glasgow, the NHS board with the highest levels of drug related deaths, 265 of the 394 deaths involved street benzodiazepine compared to 181 of the deaths involving Heroin.

New trends in drug use and increased levels of social exclusion and deprivation requires an increased response from drug treatment agencies but as the committee heard, drug treatment budgets were cut by £15m in 2016 frustrating attempts to increase the support when it was most needed.

Phoenix Futures welcomes the recommendations in this report which are in line with our ‘asks’ of the drug related deaths task force 

But more importantly we thank the Committee for listening to the life experience of people impacted by drug use, individuals and their families who spoke with bravery about their experiences.

For more than 50 years we’ve enabled people to share their stories in order to improve understanding of drug use

Over the last few years, as funding cuts gathered pace, we’ve come to realise we must do even more to highlight the stigma and daily discrimination faced by the people who uses our services.

We have done this because we believe stigma is the single biggest risk to addressing the continued increase in people dying from drug use, because stigma impacts every decision made at a national and local level;

it means life-saving budgets are slashed

it means it’s acceptable for drug treatment to be the political football in endless national and local debate

it means people are judged when they seek help and forced to prove their willingness to get better

it means it’s seemingly okay for dehumanising images and language to be used in our media

and it means that our politicians have an excuse to ignore the preventable deaths of thousands of people a year across the UK

Phoenix Futures is a registered charity in England and Wales (No 284880) and in Scotland (No SCO39008); Company Limited by Guarantee Number 1626869; Registered Provider of Social Housing with Homes England (H3795).