Sunday, 6 March 2011

"Overshadowing" Nick Clegg's keynote speech

The Scottish Sunday Express this morning reported the Scottish Lib Dems' unanimous backing of the amendment I had written on diamorphine maintenance treatment.

Here's the speech I gave in support of the amendment, followed by the letter to the Express in reply to their coverage and the quotes from the other parties:

It is first important to place this motion in its proper context. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime report Scotland as having the highest prevalence of opiate use in Western and Central Europe. Drug related death rates here have doubled since the late 90s and are on a long-term upward trend. Scotland, with one of the worst heroin problems in the world, needs one of the best drug treatment systems in the world in order to combat it.

The persistent offenders project in Glasgow is a great example of police and addiction workers working together to produce positive results. POP identifies those addicts who commit the most crime and takes the time to engage with them and work through their problems. Savings of £14 to society for every £1 spent can not be ignored. In talking to one of the project leaders this week, I was delighted to hear there are plans to extend this outreach service to tackle street prostitution. These young women experience horrendous suffering in their daily routine. A civilised society can not stand back and let them endure it. The police and a drugs project working together managed to eradicate street prostitution in Ipswich after the tragic series of murders that happened in 2006. We have to believe that we can achieve the same in Scotland.

Projects like POP can only go so far though. There will always be a significant group for whom methadone or abstinence will be unattractive or ineffective. Switzerland, Holland, Germany and Denmark have all adopted heroin maintenance clinics in order to target this difficult population. Switzerland adopted the policy in the early 90s. In the referenda that have challenged the policy, the people have consistently backed the policy by large majorities. It is both effective and popular. The UK trial of this system was also a success, with substantial reductions in criminal activity and street heroin use by the participants. This model that is spreading is typically of twice daily supervised consumption on clinic premises, with no risk of the diamorphine that is prescribed getting out on to the streets. The routine of this treatment and its associated psychological, social and employment assistance creates stability in previously chaotic lives and often leads to patients moving on into other treatment options or to abstinence.

We need services that don't allow the most problematic or vulnerable drug users to slip through the cracks. And we need the best evidence-based treatment options so that we have the best chance of helping them to recover. Putting these services in place will save the lives and alleviate the suffering of a great many drug addicts, but also of great importance is that the more heroin users we treat, the less impact they will have upon Scotland's communities. By treating addicts we can reduce the viability of drug-dealing in our communities, we can greatly reduce the acquisitive crime committed to fund drug use, and we can reduce the likelihood of more young people getting drawn into the same mess.

We have a choice. We can spend a relatively small amount in tackling Scotland's drug problem head on. Or we can let addicts steal, prostitute and deal to meet the massively inflated prices of the criminal market. This money lines the pockets of organised criminals and a proportion finds its way to the Taleban, which gets approximately 50% of its income from the heroin trade. 89% of the world's illicit opiates come from Afghanistan.

Please choose the cheaper option and support this motion.

and the letter to the Express:

The statements from the other parties regarding the Lib Dems' plans to
provide diamorphine maintenance clinics demonstrate just how hard it
will be for Scotland to tackle its very serious heroin problem. It is
laughable for the SNP to recommend we "stick to proven methods" when
drug-related deaths have doubled in the last ten years and Scotland
has the 6th worst heroin problem in the world. Labour allege "blanket
provision" and "very limited trials", when in reality this service
would only be available to at most around 10% of the most disruptive
and vulnerable heroin addicts. All the trials of this approach have
shown it much better than methadone in reducing crime and street
heroin use, and the many European countries that have adopted it as
policy have found it both effective and politically popular.
Diamorphine maintenance IS a recovery programme and it frequently
leads to abstinence. I suspect what society wants most is for
politicians to adopt the most effective way to stop heroin users
robbing from the people to give to organised crime and the Taleban.
They want street prostitution eradicated and they want their children
to be safe from pushers. All the evidence suggests that the best
diamorphine maintenance services can help achieve these goals.

If any candidates want to discuss going on the offensive with this, then please let me know.