28 November 2013

S4M-08422 Independent Expert Review of Opioid Replacement Therapies

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08422, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the independent expert review of opioid replacement therapies in Scotland. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now, or as soon as possible, and to locate their microphones effectively, remembering that they are directional microphones. I call the minister—when she is ready—to speak to and move the motion in her name. You have 14 minutes, minister—as soon as you are ready to proceed.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I am very glad that Graeme Pearson has had the opportunity to contribute to the debate. When I was a member of the former Justice 1 Committee, which Pauline McNeill convened, I first met Graeme Pearson over dinner in Glasgow to discuss drug problems. The dinner was excellent, but the message was compellingly disturbing.

I recall that on that occasion Graeme Pearson told us of a drug dealer in Glasgow who had gone into a showroom with cash and bought a brand new Bentley. He told us that that same individual had bought a fleet of cars for his private hire taxi company. He told us that this is a social problem as well as an economic problem, costing perhaps 1.5 to 5 per cent of our gross domestic product. If we were to look at it just in economic terms, that is a loss of tax take of between £0.5 billion and £1.5 billion for Scotland alone.

The reality is that the finance is not really the issue. I first spoke in the Parliament in a drugs debate on 27 October 2004. At that point I said:

“Addiction is a feature of human behaviour and, realistically, it cannot be eliminated.”—[Official Report, 27 October 2004; c 11150.]

In “A Counter-blaste to Tobacco”, which was written 400 years ago, James VI said that the smoker

“by custome is piece and piece allured.”

The whole issue of addiction is very far from new.

It is perhaps worth saying that in the 1890s, Sears and Roebuck, a well-known American retailer, had in the catalogue that it distributed to millions of homes across the United States a syringe and cocaine that could be bought for $1.50.

Attitudes have changed and the impact of addiction has changed. However, it was recognised 100 years ago that it was a major issue. The first international drug control treaty was the international opium convention of 1912, which came out of a conference that was held in Shanghai.

From the 1950s, of course, we started to see a relatively small group of morphine addicts being looked after by general practitioners. My father, who was a GP, looked after a tiny handful. Even then, the impact of criminality could be seen. In 1951, a single drug addict broke into a dispensary on the outskirts of London; a decade later, it was discovered that, from that single criminal act, 60 addicts had been created, who suffered problems. It is all too easy for little acts to have huge consequences in the area.

In the 1960s, it was, of course, thought that there were relatively few addicts. In fact, in 1964, the Home Office reported that there were 753 addicts in the UK as a whole. I think that that was questioned at the time; it was also questionable. It certainly led, with greater understanding, to the dangerous drugs legislation. However, it was thought at that time that the problem was so limited in Scotland that no provision whatsoever was made for Scotland. By the late 1970s, boy we knew that we had a problem.

We now have an excellent report that shows what we are doing to deal with that problem. We certainly cannot undo our position simply by reversing the actions that got us here. We must be proactive.

Originally, we sought simply to support the addicts and deal with their addiction medically. Now, of course, addiction has a huge reach into criminality. It is also a public health and infection issue that has to be dealt with.

Let us not forget, either, that opioid addiction, which is the subject of the debate, is part of a whole series of addictions. We have in our society alcohol, gambling and nicotine addictions. A member of staff who worked for me—among the hundreds who did so—was even addicted to a proprietary nasal spray. He consumed 20 bottles of it a day, although it did not seem to affect his life.

The illegal drugs that we are talking about and the issues with which we have to deal in that context are in part related to the free cigarettes that were dispensed to servicemen during the second world war. That desensitised us to the idea that addiction should be avoided.

In closing, it is worth welcoming very much the consensual nature of this debate. It has brought together different points of view, experiences and inputs, but they all point in the same direction. I think that Willie Rennie referred to that.

Two examples of how things can be mishandled are perhaps worth going back to.

Derek Hatton, who was the Labour deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, wanted to attack Margaret Thatcher. I might be up for that, but he did so by designating Liverpool as “smack city”. We are still living on the back of that.

In my constituency, a now-deceased GP, Sandy Wisely, quite unnecessarily and unjustifiably talked up a drug problem in Fraserburgh. We are still dealing with that today in reputational terms.

We have had a good, balanced debate. Let us hope that that continues.

I very much support the essence of what Labour’s amendment says, but very much support the Government’s motion.


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