DOROTHY BAIN was this week’s unlikely recipient of group-hugs on social media. The decision of Scotland’s Lord Advocate to divert drugs-users away from criminal prosecution sparked such an outpouring of exultation that it seems certain the day will henceforth be marked by an annual public holiday.

And what’s not to celebrate? Progressive Scotland already jails an inordinately high number of its citizens so any steps to seek an alternative route into rehabilitation is surely to be welcomed. Yet, as the usual agencies and outlets jostled to claim the credit for this ‘radical’ move several gnarly issues remain that render it nothing of the sort.

The Scottish Government’s persistent failure to help people out of addiction is now 14 years old and counting. Earlier this year, the National Records of Scotland showed that the number of drug-related deaths had risen to more than 1300 in 2020. This was the highest recorded number since records began in 1996 and the worst in Europe.

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In the short period since these figures were released the Scottish Government has performed a remarkable feat. In a few months it has gone from being the target of justifiable public anger to the recipient of garlands … with the help of Scotland’s most senior law officer, the First Minister’s cabinet colleague. And all it took was a proclamation of mild judicial intent signifying very little.

So, while we’re all patting each other on the back here’s a few numbers. Glasgow, with Scotland’s largest number of drugs deaths and problem drugs and alcohol users, has only 18 rehabilitation beds. There are fewer than 50 funded rehab beds for the whole of Scotland. And even when you add those which have been provided by charitable organisations it still only reaches a few hundred.

It’s estimated that in Glasgow alone there are more than 18,000 problem drug users and 235,000 people with unhealthy drinking habits. These numbers are the ones which ‘lived-experienced’ agencies work with when they’re on the front line in this war. They include FAVORUK, the respected advocate group for those suffering and recovering from addiction.

If you are living in poverty you are 18 times more likely to die a drugs-related death. A typically reactionary response to this is that if you can afford Class A drugs then you can’t be that poor. This is often espoused by a class which still thinks cocaine is a reassuringly expensive lifestyle accoutrement.

The truth though is much starker: drugs at street level are now cheaper than alcohol, and more especially since the Scottish Government and its Twitter acolytes were congratulating themselves over minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Remember that one? Worked a treat, hasn’t it. You can now play Russian roulette with street Valium for as little as 20p a pill.

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At the time when it was being confirmed that Scotland is the drugs deaths capital of Europe, the Scottish Tories were launching a Right to Recovery Bill with all-party support. Already, this is being dismissed by some on the left for the fact that it’s the Tories who are the main sponsors of it. Yet, most of the heavy lifting on it was done by FAVOR in Scotland.

Perhaps we ought to be asking a different question. Why did an agency such as this one – run by working-class people for mainly working-class people – feel they had a better chance of political action with the Tories?

Part of the answer lies in the chosen routes of travel by which millions in public funding are spent to address addiction. One of these is Scotland’s Drugs Deaths Task Force, an august government agency currently wallowing in the fat end of £20m received in the last two years alone.

In response to the latest drugs death numbers their Chairperson, Catriona Matheson said: “Every drug-related death in Scotland is an avoidable tragedy and these figures serve to remind us of the importance and urgency of our mission to identify the areas of action that can make a sustainable impact against the challenge.”

The only sustainable outcome on this body’s watch has been the increasing number of drug-related deaths. A far more appropriate response would have been this: “Despite receiving £20m of public money in two years the Drugs Deaths Task Force has failed dismally in making a sustainable impact against the challenge. So, we’re winding it up and advising that the money be given to other agencies who actually know that they’re doing.”

As FAVORUK’s chief executive, Annemarie Ward said this week: “When we have had 10 daily non-fatal overdoses cases which have been saved by Naloxone and we don’t really help them to get well, then spend many hundreds of thousands on a telly campaign to promote naloxone, it’s gas-lighting and abdication. Relying on it is myopic. ‘More Naloxone’ is no more a public health strategy to respond to opioid addiction than ‘more defibrillators’ is to respond to heart disease.”

No one is doubting the sincerity of those who choose careers (which can be lucrative) in the addiction sector but let’s not kid ourselves here: they like to study poor people and their habitats. Why do they take drugs; what do drugs do to them; how does this impact on their lives, families and communities from a sociological perspective? You could line the walls of every town hall in Scotland with academic studies into addiction.

They seem much less eager to conduct research into actual recovery and actual solutions. They’re not talking to those in recovery about what it was that made them embark on their journey towards the light and what sustained them in this. Thus the country is missing opportunities to implement findings from authentic engagement into public services.

Meanwhile the addiction sector is swollen with addiction workers who think that the way forward is to give people more drugs rather than easing them away from them and helping to make them whole again.

This is why there are less than 50 funded rehab beds in the whole of Scotland. And it’s why tickling drug penalties is an utterly meaningless gesture performed for Saturday night dinner parties in Giffnock and Kelvinside.

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