A REHABILITATION centre for people struggling with addiction may not be most people’s idea of heaven but that’s exactly how James McDade described it.

The former addict had nothing but praise for the Lothian and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme (LEAP).

McDade spoke to the Sunday National during a tour at the Astley Ainslie site in Morningside with Minister for Drugs Policy Angela Constance.

It comes as the programme expands its capacity to support Scots struggling with substance abuse in the area.

It’s one of the first projects to be funded through the Scottish Government’s Residential Rehabilitation Rapid Capacity Programme.

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It means the centre can provide an additional eight rehab places and four detox places, taking the total to 28 and 12 respectively.

McDade is in high spirits as government officials tour the building. He’s already chatted to two other journalists.

“I’m a popular man,” he laughs. The 61-year-old sits in one of the counsellor rooms which is used for therapy sessions with service users.

Having first-hand experience of the programme, McDade said he was eternally thankful for it.

“This service saved my life,” he said. “I came here a broken man. I didn’t know who I was. I know that might sound strange. But the last five, six years I’ve discovered a different man in myself and it’s all thanks to this place.

“This building is needed for addicts. There’s millions of us out there. Whether it’s prescription drugs or it’s heroin there’s more addicts out there than you realise.”

James, who had started taking drugs in the 1980s, first sought help in 2008. Since then, the attitude to drugs has changed.

“When I first asked for help I was on 120ml of methadone, and I had to reduce it to 20ml before I could get into treatment. I struggled but gradually I got there.

“Back in the day when I was taking heroin boys would get 10 years for personal use, back in the early 80s. nowadays police aren’t bothered, as long as it’s only for personal use.”

James said a health-based approach to drug use, rather than a criminal one, was “really important for addicts”.

“We don’t wake up one day and think I’m going to take heroin that’s gonna make me better. That’s not happening. It’s underlying mental health problems.

“For myself I was trying to hide mental health issues I had by using heroin and trying to be a tougher man but in all reality I was a weak man but I couldn’t show it.

“When I went into treatment I found out I wasn’t really the man I’d been for 40 years.”

James said that if services such as LEAP were available when he was younger “a tremendous lot of lives would have been saved”.

James looks around one of the counsellor rooms before saying “this is heaven to me, this building. It may sound weird but there’s Gods in here and that’s members of staff”.

Dr David McCartney, clinical lead at LEAP, said part of the clinic’s success is that it takes a holistic view to addiction.

He told the Sunday National: “At a higher level, what the service offers is hope for recovery.

“The process and paths to recovery are different for different people. But the thing that’s common to all of those paths is hope.”

McCartney said that often the people who are referred for rehab lack that hope and it’s the team’s job to turn that around. It’s not an easy one though.

“You can’t write it on a prescription, you don’t learn it on textbooks but it’s absolutely essential for the journey,” he said. “So how do you do that? And one of the ways we do it here is we use lived experience.”

Many of the staff have direct experience of addiction. That’s something McDade said helped them understand and something McCartney said added authenticity to the programme.

Staff are also trained to be “trauma informed” as many addicts have witnessed abuse or neglect as children.

McCartney continued: “Almost everyone who comes to treatment for addiction, the majority of people have got a background of trauma.

“Really difficult things have happened to them, often in childhood, in the form of abuse or neglect, which have huge impacts on their ability to function as people.

“Those harms are introduced often at a very early stage in life and then carried like a wound into adult life and they’re still very sore and tender as an adult. And we need to help address that by being trauma informed and trauma sensitive.”

Angela Constance told The Sunday National: “For people who have a drug or alcohol problem, it’s imperative that the have the right treatment for them at the right time. And as part of our national missions to tackle drug deaths to save and improve lives residential rehabilitation is a key pillar of that.

“I have no doubt that the service will improve many lives, and indeed, will continue to save lives and help people and will turn their own life around.”