I KNOW there’s a couple of drug summits being held in Glasgow this week, one by the UK Government, the other by the Scottish Government, but rather than go on about them, I want to take you to Shettleston Road in the East End to meet a man called Thomas Kerr because I think the story of his life, and his experiences, can provide a lot of the answers the summits are looking for.

I met Thomas, who’s in his 20s, not long after he’d been elected as a Conservative councillor in Shettleston; it was also not long after his dad had died, and as we walked down the high street, he told me, a little tearfully at times, some of the stuff he’d been through. His dad left home early on, he said, and they’d had an on-off relationship ever since. His dad was also getting himself sorted out after being addicted to heroin. But the years of drugs had got to him, and he died, aged 43.

Thomas, who grew up in Cranhill, also told me about his mum. She was a heroin addict too, which meant the traditional roles were reversed: the child was carer, the parent was cared-for. Sometimes, Thomas lived with his auntie, or his grandparents, and it was difficult when you’re six or seven, and it still is when you’re in your twenties.

The point of Thomas’s story is that what finally worked for his mum was rehab. One of the big changes for her, he said, was having Thomas’s baby sister which made his mum think ‘I need to get myself together’ and it was the time in rehab that sorted things out. Thomas is definite about that. It wasn’t methadone or anything else. It was spending time in a controlled and helpful environment, with support and advice for staying clean.

Darren McGarvey, the author of Poverty Safari, says something similar about his experiences in rehab. For him, he says, it was the moment the window of recovery opened; the time when he conceded there was a problem and became more open-minded to possible solutions. Bottom line: it worked.

And the thing is, when it comes to drugs, we should probably listen to Thomas Kerr and Darren McGarvey rather than the UK and Scottish ministers squabbling over who gets to hold a summit in Glasgow. Apart from anything else, the evidence supports Thomas and Darren: rehab can be 10 times more effective than methadone at keeping heroin addicts clean. Again, bottom line: it works.

The effectiveness of rehab is also demonstrated – sadly, perversely – by what’s happened to drug deaths. As the Government has cut funding to councils, and councils have cut funding for drug services, so the number of rehab beds has fallen and the number of deaths has risen. In 2007, there were 352 rehab beds in Scotland and 455 deaths. In 2018, there were 70 beds and 1187 deaths. It’s the importance of rehab proved by what happens when it’s shut down; it is the effectiveness of rehab demonstrated by the people who are dying.

The problem is I’m not convinced the summits are prepared to deal with any of this in any meaningful way. Indeed, Annemarie Ward, of Faces and Voices of Recovery, said most speakers at the Scottish Government’s conference were ignoring the evidence on rehab. “The tit for tat between both governments looks likely to continue,” she said. “And who will suffer? Drug users and their families.”

The answer, as it almost always is with profound social problems like drugs, is intense, close-up, personal, and sustained help for individuals, like the kind offered in rehab. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and often unpopular with socially conservative voters, but the point is that it often – not always – works, as Thomas Kerr and Darren McGarvey have proved.

And there’s one other thing we can learn from Thomas’s experience. I remember that as we walked down Shettleston Road, we got talking about why people take drugs in the first place and Thomas was clear about the link with poverty. “It’s all right for somebody who’s posh to say drugs are bad,” he said. “But no wonder people in Cranhill are turning to drugs because they don’t feel like they’ve got any hope. Come to one of these areas and see why people are using drugs.”

I think that point is just as important as the one about rehab, isn’t it? Rehab is a solution but poverty is a cause, and both are being undermined and made worse, cut by cut by cut. You won’t fix the drug problem until you offer a good rehab service. And you won’t fix the drug problem until you reduce and eliminate poverty.