Issue 284 – Health – 22 October 2012


Our response to drug misuse, as one expert quoted in this Health supplement observes, tends to “demonise addictions and the people who suffer from them”.

To those who have never experienced the problem, stereotypical views come easily. Parents only hope that their children are not tempted. Politicians play to the gallery.

This response is not helped by experts who find it difficult to agree and media outlets whose natural instinct is to take advantage of opposing views.

The Scottish Government’s national drugs strategy, The Road to Recovery, published in 2008, focused on recovery but also looked at prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, education, enforcement and protection of children.

It was, as the then Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said at the time, designed to “signal a step change in the way that Scotland deals with its drug problem.

“To explain how we need to change our way of thinking about drug use, and to set out what actions are effective in tackling it. Above all, to set out a new vision where all our drug treatment and rehabilitation services are based on the principle of recovery.”

That strategy is in the spotlight now because of the number of deaths in which methadone, the heroin substitute, has been implicated. Stereotypes, public fear, political football and polarisation are once again to the fore.

Methadone helped prevent a devastating spread of blood-borne viruses. It has saved untold lives.

After nearly three decades of use, however, it is right that the Scottish Government has asked an independent group of experts to establish an evidence base for opiate replacement therapies in general.

But it should also act to address the important issue of the proportion of problem drug users engaged in treatment. In England, it is around 67 per cent; in Scotland, only around 47 per cent. The cost of someone not in treatment is estimated to be around £50,000 a year; that, and of course the human cost, demands a rethink.

 

This supplement has been sponsored by RB Pharmaceuticals but it did not have editorial control.

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