Government unwilling to learn on drugs - Sue Webber

Like every doting grandmother, Pat loves looking after her grandson, but she doesn’t look after him for a few hours a day while mum and dad are at work, but cares for him full time because as long-term drug addicts his parents are simply incapable.

Pat can give him a secure place to grow up, but for hundreds of children parental drug use leaves them physically and mentally damaged from exposure to unspeakable traumas which impact their ability to learn and to form friendships and relationships.

These are innocent young people, seeking comfort and care, but often tarred with stigma and at risk of falling into the same cycle as their parents. The disgrace of the epidemic of drug-related fatalities in Scotland is well known, but these children are also being let down and we must do all we can to give them a better start, and to support their carers.

It has almost destroyed Pat, who is petrified for the other young family members, and not surprisingly she wants to know why there is still such easy access to drugs on our city streets.

Between January and March this year there were 31 drug-related deaths in Edinburgh, nine fewer than in the same period in 2021, but 20 more than the previous three months, each one a preventable tragedy.

But these numbers don’t paint the full picture of communities scarred by people continually dependent on drugs, with the Scottish Government seemingly content to park them on Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) without much attempt to break the addiction cycle through rehabilitation.

MAT must be part of the programme, and in May 2021 the Scottish Government announced new MAT standards were to be fully embedded nationwide by April as the cornerstone of the SNP’s pledge to tackle the scandal.

Sadly, but predictably, implementation has been a shambles, with MAT Standard 1 – allowing addicts to start medication the day they ask for help ─ introduced in just one area, a 97 per cent failure rate.

Equally predictably, Public Health Scotland’s answer is to push back a reduced target to cover just half the areas by April 2023, and only partial implementation in others.

Many people want to move on from MAT to a recovery pathway, but too often is that pathway blocked. Queueing every day for methadone, some for over 20 years, they have not been offered modern substitutes or had their doses revised and reduced to access rehabilitation.

One young addict is desperate to get into college, but there is no point in applying because he has

no other option than methadone. We are not helping him, or thousands like him, rebuild their lives, and too often they become “unplanned discharges”, dropping out of services. Eventually they show up, but in the grimmest of statistics; some 1187 deaths in Scotland in the year to March, 88 of them in Edinburgh.

On the SNP’s watch, Scottish drug deaths in Scotland have trebled yet the pace of reform is glacial. The Dundee Drugs Commission, dealing with Europe’s highest death rate, is infuriated by a broken system in which the only progress is holding meetings with services and charities unable to coordinate their efforts.

Unwillingness to learn, listen and act is the hallmark of the SNP in government and in this case it is, quite literally, killing people.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians