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27 October 2004

S2M-1882 Drugs Misuse

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1882, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on tackling drugs misuse and protecting Scotland's communities. There are three amendments to the motion.
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14:53

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will start on a consensual note: we share an ambition—throughout the chamber, I hope—to address the ill effects of addiction.

Addiction is a feature of human behaviour and, realistically, it cannot be eliminated. However, addictions can be benign or they can be harmful. When they cause harm to others, there is a role for society to act. When the harm is solely to the addict, it might seem that there is no duty to intervene. The defining characteristic of an addiction is that it removes choice from the addict. The addiction defines and dominates the plans, goals and future of an addict, rather than the characteristics of the individual as a human being that should be in control.

The minister used the phrase "chaotic lifestyle", as we all often do, to describe the lives of addicts. It has been put to me, and I have some sympathy with this, that that is an inaccurate description. The addict's lifestyle is chaotic for the rest of us, but the reality is that addicts are very organised and adept at managing their lives to get the next fix. The trick is to turn that organisational skill and that commitment to achievement into a commitment to get out of a life of addiction and crime.

We support measures to reduce the harmful effects of smoking by tobacco addicts; we are not talking only about the criminal justice system. The issue for addicts, tobacco addicts among others, is not just choice. The driver is addictive compulsion. Information is very important in understanding addiction. Some of the debate has already focused on whether appropriate information is available on the know the score website. We cannot know too much about drugs and about the ways in which people use them and seek to conceal their use.

Mr Duncan McNeil (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): Stewart Stevenson claims that we cannot know enough about drugs. However, does he agree that some of the information that is available contains a great deal of harm? For example, on one top search engine, I found a cannabis cookbook, discovered how to grow cannabis or make LSD in my kitchen and was offered the complete guide to manufacturing ecstasy. I had only to push a button. Is it not about time that we worked with our UK colleagues to ensure that these sites are not accessible and do not put our young people in harm?

Stewart Stevenson: Duncan McNeil makes a fair point. However, as someone who has spent 30 years in technology, I have to say that in reality we cannot do what he suggests.

I want to focus briefly on the know the score website, which contains some information that has caused concern. I believe that if parents are informed about and understand how their children might operate within the drugs business, they can ensure that their children are safe. I suspect that we will hear more about that issue during the debate.

This debate focuses on the illegal misuse of drugs. I want to go to a high level and lay out what I think are the ultimate goals of a successful public policy. Such a policy would eliminate the ill effects of addiction on non-addicts and, in particular, would end offending behaviour. It would enable addicts to regain control of their lives away from addiction, prevent and inhibit the recruitment of new addicts, and end the misuse of drugs in our society. I suspect that we could all sign up to such a policy. As the saying goes, it is better to aim for an unattainable goal and fail than it is to aim for a mediocre achievement and succeed. However difficult things get—and they will get difficult—we must keep these distant goals at the forefront of our thinking and test all our plans to establish whether they move us forward towards them.

Is it worth the effort? Of course it is. Scotland has 50,000 heroin users and 43,000 people who might suffer from hepatitis C as a result of drug abuse. Partners, children and parents are damaged and in despair and a tidal wave of crime is blighting many of our poorest communities. This is a social exclusion issue par excellence. After all, heroin is the scourge of the most disadvantaged in our society.

Some have suggested that the NHS should provide pure heroin to all registered addicts. However, the Swiss experience suggests that that approach might benefit 5 per cent of users and might cost as much as 10 times more than other strategies. As a result, we do not accept that it would make a big difference.

A more fundamental point is that such an approach fails to acknowledge the circumstances in which 12 and 13-year-olds take up drug habits. They are recruited in a place called boredom. The spur is the repetitive tedium of the street corner. The cure is supported purposeful activity. Yesterday, I heard about the twilight basketball initiative, which has been organised by Scottish Sports Futures and has been successful in redirecting youngsters who might take up drugs.

Mr Raffan: Earlier, Mr Stevenson mentioned heroin-assisted treatment. I do not know whether he attended the meeting of the cross-party group on drug and alcohol misuse at which we received an interesting presentation on that very matter from Switzerland. Am I right in thinking that the Scottish National Party's view now matches the outcome of the group's discussion that heroin-assisted treatment can act as a last resort when other treatments have failed?

Stewart Stevenson: I want the minister and the Executive to undertake research to find out whether such an approach would work and provide a benefit in Scotland. The Swiss example has a different context. We must be careful not to act like a drowning man with a lifebelt and grab at solutions that seem to work elsewhere before we have established whether they will work here. However, I certainly do not discount that that could be something for future strategy.

Yesterday, Professor Neil McKeganey highlighted that drug treatment in prison has substantially less successful outcomes than has drug treatment in the community. Boredom in prisons fosters the use of drugs. Also yesterday, Clive Fairweather said that most of us would need something stronger than a Polo mint to survive a prison weekend. I think that I understood where he was coming from.

Prisons work well in keeping prisoners in, but the boundaries are porous. For example, tennis balls filled with heroin were thrown over the fence at Craiginches prison last week. The warders caught some, but others disappeared. Fifty vehicles a day enter Barlinnie prison, but Clive Fairweather tells me that it takes two days to search a single vehicle comprehensively. We cannot eliminate drugs from prisons, much as we might wish to do so. Therefore, we must consider whether we are doing the right things.

Mr Swinney: The member has much experience from his own constituency of the drugs position in Peterhead prison. Does he feel, as I do, that there has been a deterioration in the management of drugs issues within prisons and, in fact, that there is a greater inability in the Prison Service to reform individuals' behaviour and their drug addiction because of the lack of intervention services within prisons?

Stewart Stevenson: My colleague makes a valid point. The cutting of prison governors' budgets by Prison Service management by 5 per cent a year is certainly making the job more difficult.

Today's announcements by the Executive have to be welcomed, by and large. However, there are difficulties that the Deputy Minister for Justice may care to address in summing up. Is the Executive taking over the role of directing and controlling the drug and alcohol action teams? There may well be a case for doing that, but the case should be made so that we understand what is happening. Gaps in service provision, particularly between prison and community, are of concern. Typically, when someone comes out of prison, they go straight back to drugs because they cannot get on a community programme.

Let me make some comments about the Executive's current targets. We talked about a 10 per cent increase in the number of addicts entering treatment and about £1 saving £3 and perhaps £9, but the reality is that the drugs problem in Scotland may cost us £1 billion a year. However, none of the budget's 12 priorities for NHS Scotland says anything on drugs. Today's announcement may move us forward in that. We are looking for an increase in the disruption of criminal networks, but we have abandoned specific targets for the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency.

So what are some of the things that the Executive might care to do? One is to end the scandal of addicts being parked for years on methadone programmes. That is one of the big sources of criticism of methadone. Too many people who get on the programme do not get looked at further. The Executive could consider the New Jersey model in which a drugs counsellor is attached to every addict throughout their history, with the funds to address their addictive behaviour.

Our amendments do not commend the Executive; we merely agree with the Executive. It must do more to earn our commendation. We stress the need for programmes to be available when people need them. That disnae mean on their first day, but it should be within a period rather less than the existing six months.

I move amendment S2M-1882.1, to leave out from "commends" to end and insert:

"agrees that an integrated approach to reducing the supply of drugs, protecting communities from drug-related offending and improving education and information about the risks from drugs is required and that this must provide an increased range and effectiveness of local drug treatment and rehabilitation services to help people to become free from drug dependence which is available at the time each service user takes the step of acknowledging the need for help."

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