The facts of drug and alcohol abuse in Scotland
Experts say the Scottish government’s new drugs strategy is not bold enough to tackle the fatal overdose crisis.
Statistics are showing that Scotland has the highest number of overdose deaths for any EU country, with fatalities predicted to exceed 1,000 in 2018.
Experts in the Addiction field are calling for radical measures to tackle a crisis in fatal drug overdoses in Scotland as they predict more than 1,000 drug-related deaths this year, the highest ever recorded.
The draft publication of All Together Now, the Scottish Government’s strategy “to address the harms of alcohol and drugs in Scotland”, offers plenty of food for thought about how those in control of public policies currently understand the social impact of the drug and alcohol abuse in Scotland
All Together Now begins by setting out eight strategic actions, including new arrangements of existing partnerships and reviews of existing strategies, as well as assessments of the relationships between equality issues and poverty on the one hand and problematic drug use and drinking on the other. Aspirations to improve education, prevention and best practice are predictable to the fore, and stakeholders have a chance to scrutinise whether the Scottish Government genuinely understands what those improvements may be.
The social impact of drug and alcohol abuse
The last Scottish Government strategy was published a decade ago, and the scale of harm caused by drug and alcohol abuse since remains a staggering social problem, far more challenging than it was in the last century.
Addiction experts are calling for radical measures to tackle a crisis in fatal drug overdoses in Scotland as they predict more than 1,000 drug-related deaths this year, the highest ever recorded.
Public spending on the adverse impact of alcohol alone costs each adult in Scotland £900 annually. Last year Scots purchased the same quantity of alcohol as though everyone aged over sixteen drank 19.6 units of alcohol every week — and the Government’s own recommended safe limit is just 14 units per week.
Small wonder, then, that drug and alcohol abuse resulted in 670 hospital admissions per week on average, and at least 1120 deaths during the year. Perhaps one in twenty of the adult population is a harmful or dependent drinker.
Similarly, 61,500 people aged between 15-64 are reportedly problematic users of opiates and/or benzodiazepines, and so on. Moreover, the draft acknowledges that “drug or alcohol use is a deeply personal and private concern which, together with the illicit nature of the drugs market, make it a challenge to reliably estimate the size and scale of the problem.”
Therefore, the true impact on Scotland of just alcohol is best highlighted by the Government’s priorities for the future set out in All Together Now, a short list which includes: less absenteeism and alcohol-related incapacity in educational establishments and workplaces; less alcohol-related violence, abuse, offences and anti-social behaviour; and fewer children affected by parental drinking, and by maternal drinking in pregnancy. Of nineteen preventative strategies set out for addressing drug and alcohol abuse, three are intended specifically for children at risk, two more for prisoners, and four relate to the activities of the police.
All Together Now also betrays apparent contradictions which have to be explained or substantiated. For example, data from the Scottish Health Survey suggests that disadvantaged social groups “have greater alcohol-attributable harms compared with those from advantaged areas.” On the other hand, during the last decade, alcohol sales in Scotland have fluctuated in line with the economic climate, suggesting that greater affluence generally leads to increased alcohol consumption. Indeed, the most prominent initiative of the Scottish Government in rising to the challenge in recent years has probably been minimum pricing for alcohol, and its medium-term ambitions set out here still include reduced affordability and reduced availability of alcohol.
Likewise, the Government acknowledges that problematic use of alcohol or drugs “is not a simple matter of choice but is heavily influenced by underlying factors such as where people live and their ability to get access to good quality housing.” So much so true, but the self-destructive use of alcohol and drugs is also associated with other factors, including life experiences and the true nature of addiction — neither of which respect poverty or affluence, or any other issues of equality. For the moment, at least, there is no indication in this document that the Scottish Government accepts what Rehab Guide regards as a truism — that addiction is a cause as much as an effect of the problematic drug and alcohol abuse. So, perhaps the greatest benefit that could come out of this consultation is greater clarity about the exact nature of the problems facing Scotland.
If you live in Scotland and believe that you are suffering in any way because of drug and alcohol abuse or drugs in your life or the life of someone close to you, then contact us can help you to find the advice, support or treatment you need to create a more positive life for yourself.
The draft of All Together Now. Our Strategy to Address The Harms of Alcohol and Drugs in Scotland is available at https://www.gov.scot/Resource/0054/00540069.pdf