Thomas Kerr: Scotland needs radical change to tackle the drugs crisis, and the Tories offer it
Cllr Thomas Kerr represents Shettleston Ward on Glasgow City Council.
1,187. That is the number of people who passed away last year alone in Scotland with a drug related illness. Scotland is in the middle of a drugs crisis and radical change is needed for us to tackle this growing scandal.
I speak not as a politician on this but as a son. You see in 2016, 867 people passed away with a drug related illness and within those numbers was my father.
For every number in this year’s total I know that there is a son, daughter, wife, husband, mother or father that will be going through the pain I went through in 2016. That is why I am determined, more than ever, to find a solution to this growing public health emergency.
I speak on this subject as someone who has experienced the pain of loss, but also the hope of someone who has seen my mother overcome addiction. How did she do that? Rehab.
Scotland’s drug policy is tailored entirely towards parking those who have an addiction onto the methadone programme in the hope that this will solve the issue. This is not the way forward, and we need a radical approach that steers drug users away from methadone and onto abstinence-based rehabilitation models. These are the kind of programmes that have helped my mother get to where she is today, and which I believe is the way in which Scotland can tackle the drugs emergency.
For years drug and alcohol partnerships, rehabs, move-on services, and other vital third sector organisations have seen their funding cut in Scotland by the Scottish Government and yet ministers wonder why these deaths are spiralling out of control. It is time we as politicians listen to the experts, those who work in the service and have given us the advice we need: that a move away from methadone is the way to go for Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s response to this scandal has been shameful, with the Minister responsible saying that this should be a wakeup call… for the UK Government. Well I am sorry, Joe Fitzpatrick, but the responsibility also lies with you and your administration, which has been in charge of Scotland’s drug strategy for over ten years now.
The blame game must stop, Scotland is seeing through it and it is not saving a single life. I have been open in the past in calling for the UK Government to have a serious conversation about reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act, but now it not the time for that debate. For Holyrood ministers to use this subject as another way of having a proxy war with Westminster is shameful – perhaps if they dealt with their own responsibilities first they would have more credibility.
I am very clear that Scotland is facing a drugs crisis, with drugs related deaths continuing to rise year on year, and our city of Glasgow is at the forefront of this epidemic. What we need to do, as a cit,y is stop calling for more powers and instead utilise the ones we currently hold to their fullest. I was the first politician on Glasgow City Council to call for the declaration of a public health emergency regarding the drug crisis our country is facing when I marched with friends at the Glasgow Recovery Walk last year.
My own personal experience dealing with the devastating effects of drug addiction inform my attitude towards the policy of safe consumption rooms. Seeing my mother going through rehab and witnessing first-hand the amazing work of our charitable and third sector organisations shows how the root causes of drug addiction can be identified and treated through effective rehabilitation. I know that rehabilitation and abstinence-based programmes helped her and do help others.
The SNP administration in Glasgow needs to call on their Scottish Government colleagues to utilise their existing powers and reverse their failure of the last ten years.
Miles Briggs and Annie Wells, two Tory MSPs, have been pillars of change in this area, and my Group on Glasgow City Council are calling on the council administration to get behind the position of the Scottish Conservatives. It is based on a simple premise: drug users don’t need a drugs plan to help them manage their addiction, they need a life plan to help them end their addiction.
This strategy calls for an independent review of methadone, a redesign of alcohol and drug services, the redirection of funds into recovery and abstinence, and a third sector-led recovery task force. This is how we sort this issue out, not by creating a proxy fight with Westminster about a facility that might not solve the underlying causes of drug abuse.
I would urge the Scottish Government, and Glasgow’s administration, to look seriously at these proposals and not seek to implement a policy that would prolong the suffering of drug users and their families.
Scotland is in a crisis. It’s time we act and I believe the Scottish Conservative Strategy is the right one for us to be getting behind.