I have been going back over the details of the community safety survey carried out between May and August last year and to consider how an interim strategy might address some of the clearer identified priorities. Often as you seek further clarity, gather additional information, and listen to new perspectives you reach a point where a clear route map and direction of travel comes into sight. However all too often for me this is usually followed by a period where the mist comes back down, and I am again fumbling in the dark and looking for a map or detailed plan to assist me navigate back out of the myriad of competing views, opinions, and policy positions. This has been particularly challenging when looking at our local issues and concerns about substance misuse and the manifest social and personal problems that are associated with addiction and dependency. This matter is of significant concern to the local community and there is anger and frustration that neither as a community or through the intervention of agencies have we been able to make significant progress or headway with this enormous social and individual problem. I want to just reflect upon the National context here prior to returning to our own local community safety strategy. The recent high-profile coverage of Drugs deaths in the Scottish news, media, public health sector, criminal justice system and political arenas has been intense, creating much heat but not often much light. Let us ponder the following:
- The most recent records from 2019 recorded 1264 drugs deaths in Scotland.
Drug-related deaths in Scotland are at their worst level on record and at a higher reported rate than any EU country, according to new figures.
The latest National Records of Scotland (NRS) statistics indicate there were 1,264 drug-related deaths north of the border in 2019 – a 6 per cent rise on 2018. It marks the highest number since records began in 1996.
David Liddell, head of the Scottish Drugs Forum charity, said the deaths were a “national tragedy and disgrace” – calling for more treatment programmes and the decriminalisation of drug possession.
“The statistics announced today are a grievous reminder of the human cost of the ongoing public health crisis we face in Scotland,” said Mr Liddell.
This then is the context we operate within Camelon and Tamfourhill , our communities have proud traditions, the Mariners and the industrialisation and construction of the Canals , the radical Scotland tradition born from this area and the workers uprisings of 1820, but like much of central Scotland we have been living in the mist of a post-industrial society and a terrible consequence of that has been the devastation of sections of our communities and families through drug misuse and the nightmare of opiate addiction. It is quite obvious if we look at the age group of our resident drug dependent population, they are mainly in their 50s, in fact ages with me, and grew up in a quite different Scotland of the 1980’s. So, what has the local community safety survey and consultation highlighted in relation to this matter:
This category was recorded as being the second biggest local priority, when we look at the individual labels the following is noted: 75% of respondents were greatly concerned or fairly concerned about drug dealing and similarly 70% expressed the same views about the consumption and presumably also the buying and selling of Class A drugs (Community safety survey 2020)
There is considerable anger about people consuming drugs, and the buying and selling of drugs, drug paraphernalia being left about, the presence of drug addicts making it unsafe for children to use and play in the parks, they have an intimidating presence especially around the chemists and users gathering in public places to consume and deal drugs. There was acknowledgement that there was support services trying to make a difference, but the problem was often that drug addicts did not want help. There was empathy and understanding but the consensus was one of this matter being a problem and an extremely negative and harmful presence upon community and family life. These views and opinions were typical and consistent and were repeatedly stated comments from local people who completed the surveys.
From this highly emotive and damaging set of circumstances a community safety response is required that is supported by the wider community, can be implemented with the support of the relevant agencies and service providers and which has also to be empathetic to the needs and circumstances of the drug users themselves. Recovery and support to recovery must be central planks to this approach, the path to recovery is challenging but it is essential that the pathway is there and that we have the support and expertise available to help people onto that road when they are ready to begin that journey. This is a controversial area, but in my view, we are correctly moving towards dealing with the matter as a public health concern and away from it being a criminal matter. This now leads us into the ongoing policy debates that are currently raging, and this has a particularly local dimension with local man and independent drugs worker Peter Krydant planning to stand as an independent candidate in the Falkirk East Constituency in the Scottish parliamentary elections this May. Peter Krydant launched a mobile overdose prevention facility this year, giving drug users in Glasgow a safe space to inject. How would his approach fit with a local community safety strategy? Remember it is probably not currently legal.
With help from trained volunteers, Peter Krydant after launching his facility has been credited with saving lives thanks to the supply of clean needles and overdose-preventing naloxone. It sounds very pragmatic, but would it contribute to addressing the concerns expressed by local people and would it contribute to making our community a safer place to live? Another strand to the local strategy has to be about early intervention with our young people and to provide reliable, creditable, and relevant inputs around alcohol, drugs and risk taking, the local community safety strategy must be on the ball with all of these issues. The involvement of youth work approaches and the need to better equip our young people with the skills, confidence, and knowledge to reject harmful behaviours through the irresponsible consumption of drugs has to be a top priority of the strategy. Another complexity might be the move towards the decriminalisation of drugs or the regulation of their use, this is another massive contextual and policy area that will have considerable impact upon how we tackle these issues locally.
I cannot provide any easy answers here, but I would acknowledge that we have dedicated professionals operating in this field and they are already successfully working in the Camelon and Tamfourhill areas, and personally I would like to thank them for their dedication and professionalism, they work in an area that is extremely challenging and highly unpredictable. I have provided a contact list at the end of this article, along with some references to current policy positions around both the decriminalisation and the regulation of drugs and the intention here is to facilitate knowledge which enables people to consider the issues for themselves.
In conclusion here is the first question of the month for 2021, and I will keep this open until the end of February, so it is really a 6-week question, but it will be interesting to see the results and I will publish them on our social media and website. I hope that the mist starts to clear for us all and we can then find some clarity as to how we best move forward as a community and do this effectively and with compassion and empathy.