Addressing the bittersweet reality of Scotland's decrease in drug-related deaths, writes Annemarie Ward

22 August 2023, 10:58

Addressing the bittersweet reality of Scotland's decrease in drug-related deaths, writes Annemarie Ward
Addressing the bittersweet reality of Scotland's decrease in drug-related deaths, writes Annemarie Ward. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Annemarie Ward

  • Annemarie is the CEO of Faces and Voices of Recovery UK a UK-wide charitable think tank & human rights advocacy service led by people with living and lived experience of alcohol and other drugs representing the voices of communities affected by addiction.

Scotland's recent decline in drug-related deaths, from a peak of 1,264 in 2019 to 1,051 in 2022, might initially seem like a cause for celebration.

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However, a closer examination reveals a stark truth: while the numbers have dropped, the situation remains dire and far from satisfactory.

The sobering fact that Scotland's drug-related death rate is still three times higher than that of England and a staggering 15 times higher than the European average raises significant concerns.

It's essential to recognise that a decrease in deaths is not synonymous with achievement when the baseline is already a deeply troubling statistic.

One might wonder why Scotland, with some of the best harm reduction interventions globally and a workforce rich in addiction expertise, continues to grapple with such staggering numbers.

The answer lies in the complex interplay of multiple factors, including the lack of a robust recovery-focused approach. While harm reduction strategies have been beneficial in reducing immediate harm, the focus on facilitating long-term recovery remains insufficient.

One striking aspect is the stark disparity between addiction experts and recovery experts on the ground and in leadership positions. This imbalance impacts the overall treatment landscape, as addiction experts may primarily focus on managing the immediate effects, leaving recovery and rehabilitation underrepresented.

Shifting the balance towards recovery-focused initiatives is crucial for addressing the root causes of addiction and providing holistic solutions.

Another critical facet is the dire reality of accessing residential rehab facilities in Scotland. Despite having exceptional harm reduction interventions and a knowledgeable workforce, the road to rehab remains an arduous journey.

The odds are alarmingly against individuals, as exemplified by Glasgow's case, where just one person out of every 6,565 registered with addiction services can access rehab.

This shocking statistic underscores the urgent need for comprehensive reform to make effective treatment accessible to all in need.

While harm reduction efforts are pivotal, a well-rounded approach should also involve robust recovery programmes. Residential rehab plays a crucial role in offering individuals a chance to break free from addiction's clutches and rebuild their lives.

The lack of accessible rehab facilities highlights a glaring gap in the treatment landscape.

In a society that strives for equality and inclusivity, the current scenario is far from acceptable. It's imperative for policymakers, healthcare providers, and society as a whole to come together to address these shortcomings.

Comprehensive reform is essential to ensure that recovery-focused initiatives receive equal attention, resources, and support.

As we analyse the decrease in drug-related deaths, we must tread the fine line between acknowledging progress and acknowledging the substantial challenges that persist.

A decrease from previous years, while a step in the right direction, is not an achievement when the starting point is an alarming rate of deaths.

Scotland holds the potential to lead the way in providing comprehensive addiction treatment that emphasises both harm reduction and recovery.

By bridging the gap between addiction expertise and recovery specialists, expanding access to residential and community rehab, and fostering a culture of holistic healing, we can pave the way for a brighter future—one where the decrease in drug-related deaths truly reflects the transformative impact of effective, accessible treatment for all.