DRUG and alcohol experts in Scotland have “kept shtum completely” despite misgivings about the Tories’ proposed Right to Addiction Recovery Bill for fear of being wrongly painted as the problem, The Sunday National has been told.

Experts told this paper that it was difficult to publicly oppose the Conservatives’ bill due to the narrative which had been built around it – although they found that narrative problematic.

Jan Mayor, the practice and innovation lead at social care charity Turning Point Scotland, said her organisation had “very strong” concerns about even the name of the Tories’ Right to Addiction Recovery Bill.

“The word addiction is, I think, really unhelpful,” Mayor said. “That leads to a narrative of talking about addicts, and that is extremely stigmatising – but it also puts a lot of people off accessing services.”

READ MORE: Tories' plan to combat drugs deaths 'neither radical nor practical', expert says

Peter Krykant, a prominent drugs reform campaigner who now works with the charity Cranstoun, called the bill a “smokescreen of compassion”.

He said: “My worry is that the SNP could potentially look to back this because in the face of it and from a public-facing, media perspective, ‘everybody has a right now in law to addiction recovery’.

“In actual fact, it's unworkable, over costly, won't help the people that it is designed to help, and actually it’s stigmatising.”

Krykant added: “It's this political chess that they play, because on the face of it the right to treatment in law is an easy public win, isn't it?

“But it sticks in my throat. I'm going to do my utmost to make sure that I highlight the flaws in this in the coming weeks and months.”

The Scottish Conservatives’ leader, Douglas Ross, officially published the bill on Wednesday, claiming it could be an “absolute game-changer” in Scotland’s drugs deaths crisis.

If passed, it would enshrine in law people’s right to access appropriate treatment as soon as practicable, and within three weeks at most.

Official data from the National Records of Scotland showed 1051 people died from drug-related deaths and 1276 from alcohol in 2022.

Ross called on the SNP government to back his initiative – which was projected to cost between £28.5 million and £38m annually – saying: “This is not a controversial bill. It’s not partisan.

“It’s a bill that seeks to save lives. We know that Scotland has an appalling record for drug and alcohol deaths and it’s not just the worst in the UK, but the worst anywhere in Europe, so something must be done.”

READ MORE: 'Westminster must let Scotland take action': Charities speak out on drugs deaths

Responding to the bill, Mayor said: “I think because it sounds like ‘motherhood and apple pie’ we know that other organisations like ours have just kept shtum completely. And the reason they've kept shtum completely is because it's complicated.

“We know that in the news world to say ‘actually, it's not that simple’, it just doesn't land. We end up sounding like we're the people keeping people from treatment, and nothing could be further from the truth.

“When you say you don't like a bill like this, people hear it as ‘you're denying us treatment’.”

Krykant, Mayor, and Patricia Tracey, Turning Point Scotland’s head of alcohol and other drugs, all raised concerns about the focus of the bill on abstinence as recovery.

Tracey said the bill “just seems to make the issue seem very simple” which she said “worries me a wee bit”.

“It is not a simple issue, and there's not a simple answer. It's actually quite complex, and I know that's difficult to put across, but that's the reality.”

READ MORE: What Glasgow's safer drug consumption facility is – and is not

Krykant, who made headlines pushing for safe consumption facilities in Scotland by demonstrating how they can work with his own converted vehicle, said that by equating recovery with abstinence the bill “actually jeopardises the opportunity for the advancement of harm reduction by focusing on ‘addiction recovery’”.

“That's the simple reality,” he said. “We need to focus on what we can do right here, right now, and this is just a blinkered smokescreen of compassion from the Scottish Conservatives.

“I do not think for a minute that the Tories have the best interests of people like me. I think they're playing a political game and a political agenda to forward their own views, opinions and moralistic stance on drugs.”

Krykant (below) said that measures such as more safe consumption spaces, morphine-assisted treatments, and a less medicalised, hybrid prescription model which would allow third sector organisations to be a first point of contact would have a more positive impact than the Conservatives’ bill.

The National:

Tracey said she was not sure that the bill’s three-weeks provision was realistic, and said more funding needed to be put into outcomes which are not abstinence-based.

“The way things are funded just now, if you look at the national mission, there was a lot more money went to abstinence-based residential than there was to stabilisation services,” she said.

“Yet stabilisation services, because they’re health based, are actually more expensive, so the narrative, it doesn't feel like the balance is right there.”

Mayor said it was good that the bill now included “more of the harm-reduction based treatments rather than just purely abstinence-based residential rehab” than it had in its early draft stages – but concerns were raised that it still pushed a one-size-fits-all approach.

READ MORE: 'Individuals at its heart': How an independent Scotland would tackle the drugs crisis

She said: “It massively oversimplifies a really complex social problem. And the worry about that for me again is the narrative around that.

“It makes people who maybe don't understand the complexity and the nuance think there's a simple solution that they're being denied, and that's actually quite hurtful.”

She raised concerns that by rushing people into a certain treatment route before they are ready, the bill could actually have negative impacts.

“Alcohol withdrawal becomes more dangerous the more times you repeat it,” Mayor said. “So getting the moment we make that intervention, timing that well is not that easy.

“That's why it's got to be individualised to the person in front of us, not saying that ‘there's one-size-fits-all, abstinence is the right outcome for everybody’.”

The National: Douglas Ross introduced The Right to Addiction Recovery Bill

The bill will undergo scrutiny from an allocated lead committee, with experts likely to give evidence to MSPs in live sessions at Holyrood.

Its general principles will then be debated and voted on in the Scottish Parliament, with amendments put forward at stage two before a final vote which could see it become law.

Previously, Ross (above) said that “far too many lives have been lost” during the long process of introducing the Member’s Bill, and urged First Minister John Swinney to back it.

The Tory group leader said: “This crisis is our national shame and our most vulnerable cannot continue to see those in charge fail to take the necessary and decisive action required to save lives.

“As this bill launches, in the spirit of him saying he wants to work across the chamber, I urge John Swinney to throw his weight behind it, so it can become law as soon as possible.”

Responding, Swinney said Scottish ministers would “engage constructively”.