Let me begin by expressing my sincere condolences to the loved ones across our nation who are having to learn to live with the impact of losing their loved ones to drugs. Every one of the 1,339 lives lost across 2020 in Scotland, and the many more in 2021 and in previous years, are a great loss to many. This is devastating and changes must be made to tackle this national health emergency.
Let’s not forget England and Wales also saw 4,561 drug related deaths across 2020 (see article here). The highest since records began in 1993, this number sees a rise in these figures for the eighth successive year.
I want to focus my attention particularly on Scotland, where drug-related death rates are significantly higher than other parts of the UK and the rest of Europe. Our rate is almost three and a half times higher than England and Wales! The number of drug-related deaths has increased substantially over the past 20 years and is now almost three times higher than it was a decade ago, with the upward trend increasing significantly over the past 7 years.
Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the highest rate of all health board areas at 30.8 deaths per 100,000 people, where all our six current project (and two new proposed projects due to start soon) are based. I have taken a number of excerpts from a recent BBC news article to share with you, but please read the article in full for more details. The below excerpt explains some of the contributing factors to our alarming death rate:
“More than one drug was found to be present in the body of 93% of those who died, suggesting that many of the deaths were caused by Scotland’s “polydrug” habit – mixing dangerous street drugs with alcohol and prescription pills.
Opiates such as heroin and methadone were implicated in 1,192 deaths while benzodiazepines such as diazepam and etizolam were implicated in 974.
Gabapentin or pregabalin were present in the bodies of 502 people who died, and cocaine in 459.
There have been large increases in the numbers of deaths where “street” benzodiazepines, such as etizolam, were involved in recent years, from 58 in 2015 to 879 last year.”
Right to Recovery Bill Proposal
A radical change is needed in legislation. Regardless of your political stance, I am sure we can all agree that the Right to Recovery Bill Proposal, currently being put forward by the Scottish Conservatives, should be implemented so that anyone seeking treatment should legally be able to access the support they need with immediate effect.
‘For such a time as this’
Last year I felt a growing conviction that God was raising Street Connect up for ‘such a time as this’ and I strongly believe that we have a key role to play in reducing these drug death figures over the coming years. Here are some of the ways in which we are seeking to do this:
Faith-based recovery and the role of the local church
As we continue to work on refining our replication strategy – working towards our vision of expanding across the UK to work with local churches to reach more people and see many more lives transformed – we know that the local church can play a key role in this fight. We also firmly believe that a faith-based approach to recovery works, and want to offer this more widely as part of the ‘no wrong door’ approach.
As I have reflected over the current situation, I am even more confident that we are taking the right approach and that our service model can support the government aim of reducing these deaths.
Assertive outreach and place-based approach
‘Assertive outreach’ has played a key role in our approach since our formation in 2013. This began in Glasgow City Centre and has continued as we work to tackle the impacts of addiction, homelessness and associated issues via a ‘placed-based approach’ through outreach and support in local communities. We operate our outreach and support services in some of the most deprived areas, which the evidence shows is where there is a higher likelihood of drug related deaths: “And people in the most deprived parts of the country were 18 times more likely to have a drug-related death as those in the least deprived. The gap has widened significantly since the start of the century, when deaths were 10 times higher in the most deprived areas.” (BBC news)
Residential rehabilitation and community-based recovery
I have been pleased to see that there has been a financial investment and commitment into increasing bed spaces in residential rehabilitation, as the government had previously cut support in this way. This reversal will play a significant role in reducing the drug death numbers moving forward and forms a key part of our approach as we look to continue referring people into such centres.
Community recovery also plays an important role in tackling this epidemic. Many can’t go to rehabilitation, therefore we need to be running programmes that can work for people as they look to undertake recovery in their local community.
Our outreach, community-based recovery, and rehabilitation referral services are what we are looking to replicate around the UK at this point.
Aftercare Support will follow at a later date. We are thankful to the Scottish Government for funding a Full-time Aftercare Development Worker, which is enabling us to significantly improve our aftercare services in the West of Scotland, before we are ready to replicate this further. Aftercare is essential in supporting people as they re-integrate into the community and take steps towards their desired future.
Last year we set up a First response prayer team. As a Christian organisation, this is our first response in all matters. We believe in the power of prayer, and we have called for a time of prayer and fasting today on Wednesday 4th August in response to last week’s announcement. If you are able to join us in praying for radical solutions to this national health emergency, please do so.
Please see below some prayer points:
- Pray for the loved ones of the precious lives lost to drugs across the UK in 2020 and previous years. Pray for God’s peace and hope in their lives.
- Pray for the Scottish and UK governments. Angela Constance, the Scottish drug policy minister and her team, and for the right to recovery bill proposal, that this would be adopted and radical solutions would be adopted at policy level to see our high drug death rates significantly decrease over the coming years.
- Pray for services who are tackling these issues, that God would give their leaders wisdom and their staff and volunteer teams the strength they need to continue fighting this fight and not get overwhelmed, stressed, or burned out in the process.
- Pray for those currently struggling in addiction, that they would find the pathway they need to break free and find new life.
- Pray that we would see the illegal drug factories across Scotland being closed, as they continue to produce the deadly ‘street valium’ tablets.
- Pray for Street Connect and the local church as we continue to work on our replication strategy and work in partnership to combat these challenges. Pray we can get into all the communities which need the support we can offer.
Thanks and God bless.
Ricky McAddock, Chief Executive, Street Connect.