The National:

Ahead of his meeting with the First Minister next month, Peter Krykant sets out why addiction should be treated as a health issue in Scotland, rather than a moral one:

SCOTLAND'S drug death crisis gives us the title of the worst country in the world for preventable drug-related deaths.

Our overdose prevention centre (OPC) team have been working hard to make available one of a range of solutions in need of implementation, in the form a safe consumption space.

Research from countless cities across the world, reveals that OPCs providing safe consumption reduces deaths, HIV, and even illegal drug use, by keeping people safe and alive, and signposting them into treatment support.

Businesses and residents where OPCs have been operating for many years widely support their ongoing crucial function, with no recorded deaths in any of the hundreds of sites across the world.

The evidence is unanimous and crystal clear - OPCs save lives and protect the public from discarded needles - reducing economic strain on health services (ambulance call-outs) and improving footfall for businesses in the area.

If we are to really tackle this terrible title - that no country wants to hold - we need to work together across all sectors of society, to tackle the stigma drug users face and begin to treat addiction as a health, rather than moral issue.

We need to implement evidence-based solutions to reduce harm, to keep people alive and crucially to get people into treatment and retain people in treatment services. This is where we are failing, as we have a three-times higher death rate than England and Wales, with less than 40% of people who have problems with drug use in treatment in Scotland, compared to over 60% in the rest of the UK.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon to meet with drug safety activist Peter Krykant

Safe consumption areas move people with injecting disorders out of the places they are often found dead - the dark alleyways and abandoned buildings - and into the light, literally and metaphorically.

We can triage their addiction needs, and by doing so move them to places where we can discuss some the underlying trauma that has often led to the homelessness and drug use, a place where they can be introduced to people who will listen and understand.

After months of gathering legal and drug policy opinions from across Scotland and beyond, and running a safe consumption van firsthand on the streets of Glasgow, I hope to discuss new strategies to tacking overdose prevention with the First Minister in our January meeting.

I hope by listening to those still suffering, and engaging with them firsthand on the streets where they use, we can forge a path together to an OPC health facility, able to operate within current legal frameworks.

Legal experts, Andrew Tickell and Michael Gray - as well as organisations like Release Drugs, Transform Drugs Policy and Scottish Drugs Forum - have expressed new ideas, from which we can find consensus and forge a pathway to an official OPC able to operate, even without a change to the outdated Misuse of Drug Act 1971.

Like many working in the sector, I was impressed with the First Minister’s acknowledgement of the severity of the issue, taking a crucial first step in appointing a dedicated drugs minister.

We now need to work together for quick action, as every day is a day where more than three people are likely to die. We need more open prescribing - with quick access to safe substitute medications to drugs like benzodiazepines, as dangerous “Street Benzos” were implicated in 814 of the 1264 deaths in 2019.

READ MORE: Scotland is drug death capital of the world, here's how we can shed that title

We need to remove barriers for people to access support and take away unnecessary assessments. We need investment in funded residential rehabilitation, as it is often not available when people are ready to take that step, however, first and foremost - we need to keep people alive long enough to accept and access such support.

This must be our first goal - to keep people like me alive.

As a former homeless injecting drug user and having now worked across various drug treatment services, I understand these barriers all too well. The changes we need are not “radical” or “ground-breaking” they are basic harm reduction, coupled with various compassionate routes to stability.

When I meet with the First Minister to discuss these tragic unnecessary deaths from preventable overdose, I am sure the first thing we will both do before we discuss policy, investment and reform, is to remember that each of the 1264 deaths in 2019 was someone’s someone.

And from there we need to act quickly to change - to treating addiction as a health issue, triaging it with safe consumption spaces, opening prescribing to GPs and beyond, and provided funded rehab beds for the most vulnerable in Scotland when they need it. 

Overdose Prevention Centres can - and do - offer a first step in climbing upward from shameful drug death statistics Scotland must own.