Public Health approach to Drug and Alcohol Strategy

by Erin Kearns

Scotland’s first drug and alcohol strategy in a decade aims to treat the issue as a public health concern rather than a criminal justice one.

Joe Fitzpatrick, SNP MSP and Scottish Public Health Minister, in a document published  this morning, has said that he has combined his strategy for both drug and alcohol misuse because they had many solutions in common.

Figures from earlier this year showed there were a record 934 drugs related deaths in Scotland last year, a sharp increase over the last five years. Whilst alcohol deaths are not increasing at as quick of a rate, there were still 1120 related deaths last year. Fitzpatrick said that this “takes a toll on Scotland’s communities and all of us as a nation.”

Over the last ten years since the last strategy, Scotland has made improvements for the outcomes for individuals, families and communities. The public health minister claims that the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, the establishment of recovery orientated systems of care and the growth of over 120 recovery communities throughout Scotland.

The report states that there strategy is “about how we best support people across alcohol and drug issues – taking a human rights-based, public health approach to ensure we delivering the best possible care, treatment and responses for individuals and communities.”

It further acknowledges that those who experience long term problems with drugs and alcohol often have other societal challenges such as poverty, inequality and personal health therefore calling for support of those who are struggling rather than stigmatising them.

The introduction of Treatment services and organisations are beginning to tackle the physical and mental harms that are caused by drugs and alcohol, with more than 120 recovery communities set up throughout the country.

Andrew Horne, director of Scotland’s largest drug and alcohol charity, Addaction, responded to the publication stating”

“It will help more people get the right help in the right place at the right time. That is the most critical test.

“It creates the right balance between harm reduction and recovery. It recognises that ‘one-size-fits-all’ doesn’t work. We need to meet people where they are in their journey.

“The shift towards treating alcohol and drug problems as health and social care issues is very welcome. Nobody should be criminalised for health problems. People who need help should get it without judgement”

The publication is also supportive of safer drug consumption facilities; a service supervised by trained health professionals where people can consume drugs, obtained elsewhere. It says these facilities “offer a compassionate, person-centred service which focuses on reducing the harms associated with injecting drug use and helps people access appropriate services to meet their needs.”

Whilst the Scottish Government is supportive these sort of proposals, drug legislation is currently reserved to the Westminster Parliament. Following a drastic increase in individuals diagnosed with HIV in Glasgow, a drug consumption facility was proposed but was refused by the Home Office who said it was illegal and that the police would be expected to enforce the law. Westminster would be required to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act before these facilities could be put in place, however, the Scottish Government are willing to press the UK Government to make the necessary changes in the law, or if they are not willing to do so, to devolve the powers over this issue.

Andrew Horne responded:

“As a treatment provider we’re also pleased to see recognition of the huge impact of recovery communities across Scotland. Encouraging peer support is vital.

“We’re pleased to see a desire to look again at drug consumption rooms and heroin prescribing. We need to be brave.”



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