'No progress' made on plans to halt national drug death crisis

Campaigners have warned some waiting for addiction treatment are spending up to four years before starting programmes.

‘No progress’ made on Scottish Government plans to halt national drug death crisis iStock

Campaigners say those struggling with addiction are being “failed” a year on from a national summit on Scotland’s drug deaths.

The Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR) group say almost “no progress” has been made towards reducing the number of people dying as a result of drug-related incidents in the past 12 months.

They added some requiring treatment are waiting “up to four years” for programmes to start, only for a “postcode lottery” and inappropriate treatment facilities to present further barriers to recovery.

A report published to mark a year since First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Conservative leader Douglas Ross’s joint visit to the Bluevale Community Centre also criticised the lack of mental health support alongside pharmaceutical treatment, while medication standards have also been branded a “let down”.

FAVOR CEO Annemarie Ward accused the Scottish Government of “forgetting” about the crisis, despite figures released earlier this year showing 2021 was the second worst year on record for drug deaths in Scotland.

Sturgeon and Ross visited the recovery group at the Glasgow facility in November last year in what campaigners hoped would be a “turning point” in the way rehabilitation services were funded.

The FM had previously admitted the drug death rate was a “national disgrace,” adding that “significant additional investment” would be committed to tackle the problem.

But FAVOR says that has lapsed, leaving thousands at risk.

Ward added: “We hoped government investment and the introduction of new guidelines would improve things but unfortunately, the system remains as broken today as it was a year ago.

“Our report identifies the deep-rooted problems and outlines a series of recommendations to improve how we treat people.

“It looks like the politicians have forgotten about Scotland’s drug death crisis, so we hope our report will remind them that our communities are still suffering and they still need to act.”

The “Blueprint to Save Lives” sets out six recommendations on improving rehabilitation services, including ensuring a “clear definition” of a residential treatment facility.

It comes amid fears some struggling with addiction are being sent to “pretend rehab” locations which assist in detoxing or stabilising, but not necessarily recovery.

Natalie Logan, CEO of Sisco Recovery, said: “We cannot keep losing more than 1,000 people in Scotland every year to addiction.

“Radical change is necessary. We have clients on substantial levels of medication and haven’t even seen a care manager in four years.

“Every year that the politicians delay, more families are left broken and more damage is done to our communities. The FAVOR report tells it like it is. The use of pretend rehab services and the postcode lottery of treatment must be sorted now before more lives are lost.”

Other recommendations include the introduction of a “right to recovery Bill” to ensure medical assisted treatment standards are implemented and people seeking treatment can receive it. 

The report also calls for a return to “community-based” rather than centralised services, though does suggest a central referral and funding system to “provide a more consistent approach across the country”.

The report will be presented at a special meeting at Bluevale on Monday.

Ross branded drug death statistics a “national shame,” adding: “We hear a lot of warm words from Nicola Sturgeon and other SNP ministers about tackling the scourge of drug deaths but action to deliver support to those who need it most is moving at a snail’s pace.

“It is wholly unacceptable that a postcode lottery exists for those desperate for treatment and we must act without further delay.

“Twelve months on, I fully understand the anger by campaigners which is why I am going to this important meeting today in Glasgow. The onus is on the SNP to fully support the Right to Recovery Bill to finally guarantee access to treatment for all.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that plans were under way for up to 1,000 publicly funded rehabilitation places to be rolled out by 2026.

Drugs policy minister Angela Constance added: “As we do all we can to help families cope with the cost of living crisis, we’re even more focused on supporting those affected by problem substance use, delivering real change on the ground and implementing approaches we know can help save lives.

“Anyone who needs support should have access to whatever type of treatment or recovery works best for them. For some that will be medication-assisted treatment, but it could be rehabilitation in the community or residential placements. That’s why we are investing £100 million in residential rehabilitation over the course of this Parliament.

“I’ll continue to use all the powers at my disposal, including holding local leaders to account in implementing the medication-assisted treatment standards, to drive improvements across Scotland.” 

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