Drug use: a health issue not a criminal issue

Andrew Horne

Last week Andrew Horne, Director of Addaction Scotland, spoke at a political debate in Inverclyde about whether the drugs should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one.

It was great to have the chance to represent Addaction at a political debate in Inverclyde, led by MP Ronnie Cowan. As our charity’s director for Scotland, I shared my professional and personal views on drugs being a health issue rather than a criminal one.  It was strengthening to hear the other panel members – all from very different backgrounds – share this common ground…and for very different reasons.

We all firmly believe that drug policy is not a law enforcement issue, but a health and social care one. I am acutely aware that our Scottish politicians, the majority of our press and public believe in this stance.

From a professional point of view, we heard from Rod Thomson, who is the Royal College of Nursing’s deputy president. He spoke candidly about how his views of substance misuse changed dramatically as a student nurse, when his community placement showed him the real stories of people affected.

On the flipside was panel member Anthony Gielty from The Haven, whose own drug and crime activity saw him spend 15 months of his teenage life in solitary confinement, labelled one of Scotland’s most violent prisoners. After years in prison, he now provides pastoral care to men at The Haven and he’s passionate about recovery and a change in Scotland’s drug policy.

Neil Woods, who is chairperson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), is a former polis and undercover operative. LEAP is made up of law enforcement/military figures and policy influencers who all campaign for evidence-based drug policy. Neil’s frontline career led to a personal realisation of how punitive measures do not make for cultural change; instead, they can worsen the bigger picture.

Last, but not least, we heard from Mike McCarron (one of the founders of Transform Drug Policy Foundation Scotland) who combines diverse working experience with tangible empathy and understanding. His volunteering shows how he will never tire of community advocacy.

Our audience held nothing back in the debate that followed. Their honesty, insights, beliefs and determination reminded us that we are not fighting a losing battle. People from all walks of life share common ground when it comes to issues like this - and seeing this in person gives us all hope.

Lessons have been learned, culture is changing and there’s no doubt that pressure is rising on decision makers to make policy change.

At our own services within Addaction Scotland, we see every day how change is possible in the most testing of times.