Alcohol & drugs strategy published

Thursday 29th November 2018

A week after it published its Alcohol Framework 2018: Preventing Harm, the Scottish Government has followed up with Rights, Respect and Recovery: a national strategy for preventing and reducing drug and alcohol-related harm.

Ahead of the publication, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, Alex Cole-Hamilton, called on Government to treat drug misuse “as a health issue rather than criminalising and penalising”. A topical question was put to the Cabinet Secretary for Health & Sport, Jeane Freeman, on action to reduce the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome after the Liberal Democrats published figures showing nearly 600 babies have been born dependant on substances since 2015 and criticised a “23% cut to alcohol and drug partnership services”.

In response, the Cabinet Secretary said the new combined strategy would focus on how services could adapt to meet individuals’ needs “at birth, in infancy and across the life course”. The reshaping of maternity services under the best start: five-year plan for maternity and neonatal care, published in January 2017, was highlighted as part of a twin approach by Government, which Jeane Freeman said would lead to continuity of care from specialist midwives for vulnerable women, including those with substance use issues.

The Cabinet Secretary also pointed to work being led by Minister for Mental Health, Clare Haughey, as part of the Programme for Government and offered assurances work was ongoing to establish how a recommendation from Sir Harry Burns’ review of targets and indicators, to routinely capture adverse childhood experiences, could be taken forward.

“The strategy…treats this as a core health matter and a public health matter…that is focused on the individual.” Cabinet Secretary for Health & Sport, Jeane Freeman

Also in advance of the strategy, the opposition published their own policy paper: Scottish Conservatives Addiction Strategy: Life Plan. Asserting the Scottish Government “failed to follow through” on the strategy it published ten years ago, the Conservatives state the “simple premise” of their plan is that “users don’t need a drugs plan to help them manage their addiction, they need a life plan to help them end their addiction”.

Alongside a target to halve the number of drug deaths over the next five years, some of the measures that form part of the Conservatives’ plan include: local Commissions for individuals caught for the first time in possession of drugs; an independent review of methadone; and more prison-based interventions followed by transitional and long-term support. The Conservatives have said separate drug and alcohol strategies will be published in due course.

A opposition debate was held in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday on a motion that called for a new approach to tackle “Scotland’s drug crisis”. At decision time, the Parliament agreed to include a call on the UK Government to make the necessary changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to allow the creation of a medically supervised safe consumption facility in Glasgow, or to empower the Scottish Parliament to do so.

“Working with a range of partners, the Scottish Government will produce an action plan for the strategy in early 2019.” Scottish Government

Launching the strategy in Dundee, Minister for Public Health, Sport & Wellbeing, Joe FitzPatrick, announced an additional £20m a year would be provided by government to drug and alcohol treatment and prevention.

Recent estimates found that around 61,500 people aged 15-64 misuse opiates and/or benzodiazepines and about 4% of the adult population have possible alcohol dependency.

There were 934 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2017, the highest on record. While fewer people are using drugs and consuming alcohol, problematic alcohol consumption and harmful drug use is increasing among older adults.

“We need to seize this opportunity to transform support…before another life is lost.” Chief executive of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs, Justina Murray

Welcoming the publication of the strategy, Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (Scottish Families) credits the strategy with recognising families can play a vital role in treatment and recovery. Ongoing support for the family recovery community, to be provided by the Scottish Government through the family recovery initiative fund, is highlighted as an important part of co-production of solutions. 

Chief executive, Justina Murray, states that for the first time, Scotland had a “rights-based strategy which places families affected by alcohol and drugs at its heart”. She highlights that families helped to shape the strategy, with their messages being “loud, clear and consistent” after many years spent excluded from their loved one’s care and treatment, “stigmatised by services and communities; and denied support in their own right”.

The “huge task” faced by Scotland to improve its relationship with alcohol and drugs is highlighted by Alcohol Focus Scotland’s chief executive, Alison Douglas, in her organisation’s response to the strategy. The focus on prevention and recovery is welcomed and Alison Douglas reflected: “As a society we also need to recognise the underlying reasons why people turn to alcohol and other drugs. These include poverty and adverse childhood experiences, but environmental factors such the low price, widespread availability and aggressive marketing which we are exposed to on a daily basis also make people more vulnerable”.

While issuing a scathing attack on the contribution of the previous strategy to a “crisis that has seen a 50% increase in drug-related hospitalisations and deaths reaching an all-time high”, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said the new strategy rightly sets an ambition to treat drug misuse as a health, rather than criminal, issue, but “it doesn’t go far enough to meet that ambition”. The Conservatives meanwhile have declared the Government’s strategy to be “dangerously complacent”, condemning a lack of targets and suggesting £20m had been cut from drug and alcohol partnerships. They also state support for safe consumption rooms will see addicts “simply maintaining their addiction”.