Political unity 'broken' on Scotland's drugs policy

Composite image of a heroin and methadone user
Image caption Heroin was linked to 206 deaths in Scotland in 2011, while methadone was a factor in 275 deaths, official figures showed

There are "worrying signs" that political unity has broken down on Scotland's drugs strategy, the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) has said.

The warning comes in the same month that the Scottish government announced a review of its methadone programme.

The review followed the release of figures showing that Scotland's drug deaths in 2011 were at a new high, with methadone linked to 47% of deaths.

The SDF said the methadone programme had now become a "political football".

The official statistics, released in August, revealed there were 584 drug-related deaths in 2011, a 20% increase on the previous year and 76% higher than in 2001.

It also showed that the number of people on methadone had risen by a tenth within five years, to 24,507 in 2011.

Image caption As well as chairing the SDF, Mr Allan is a university lecturer on social work

In the Scottish Drugs Forum's annual report, its chairman George Allan said while the SDF would contribute to the methadone review "a focus on this alone will not be an adequate response to a complicated issue".

He said: "Thought must be given on how best to reach older users who may be physically less robust and who may have given up taking care of themselves.

"The reasons for the high levels of drug deaths are much more complex than the headlines have suggested."

The Scottish government's drug strategy - The Road To Recovery - was published in 2008, with ministers claiming that a new emphasis on recovery was needed to tackle the problem.

The strategy, which included a five-point plan, pledged at least £94m over three years for programmes to help wean people off drugs, and help them stay clean.

At the time, the Scottish Conservatives welcomed the new focus on recovery instead of merely harm reduction, and the strategy also received the backing of Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems.

However, the methadone programme was widely criticised after the latest drug death figures were published, with Labour's justice spokesman saying the SNP's approach was not working, and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson describing it as "legalised drug-taking on an industrial scale".

'Muddy the waters'

However, Mr Allan said the strategy "articulates a clear and sound vision for services to work to and it would be unfortunate if party politics were to muddy the waters".

"If recovery is to become a reality for more people, then all the links in the chain must be sound," he said.

"Good quality harm reduction services and the ready availability of Naloxone (a drug which can reverse effects of an Opiate overdose) are needed to reduce immediate harms, along with imaginative ways of encouraging people into treatment.

"Person-centred services offering a range of options must work in close co-operation with agencies helping people with the practical building blocks of recovery - accommodation, financial support and access to employment or volunteering and mutual aid groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery."

Mr Allan said the SDF had also been working closely with organisations such as the Poverty Alliance to highlight the potential negative impacts of welfare reforms on people recovering from drug use and those with Hepatitis.

"This will remain high on SDF's agenda in the hope that the recession does not lead to the spiralling drug use which occurred in the 1980s," he added.

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