Drugs Strategy Speech in the Scottish Parliament 4th. June 2008

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this serious debate.

It is important to build consensus, but it is simply wrong to suggest that that has not been done in the past, because there is huge evidence that it has been done.

The Minister for Community Safety said in his statement to the Parliament last week that there was a concern because of the terrible health inequalities that afflict Scotland.

Of course, the bigger challenge is the inequalities that exist within Scotland.

We know that many young people experiment with drugs, but the reality is that communities that experience disadvantage and deprivation lose their children to drugs and the accompanying death toll disproportionately.

Those communities understand that.

Yes, we have to have a person-centred approach, but we also have to have a community-centred approach.

We cannot simply say that that is what happens in such communities; we must listen to people in those communities who suffer as a consequence of drugs being taken and we must take account of the impact on the broader community.

Regardless of whether people in those communities take drugs themselves, they see the impact on their schools, health centres and the very fabric of their neighbourhoods.

The life chances of their children can be determined by our inability to address the consequence of drugs.

It is therefore important for the minister to reaffirm that the Scottish index of multiple deprivation will remain a key driver in distributing resources across a range of services in order properly to meet need.

Of course, there are always those who wish to create the impression that the debate around drugs is somehow about opposites—that it is either maintenance or abstinence—but I acknowledge that the minister confirmed that the Government's strategy does not seek to come down on one side or the other in that way.

However, I believe that talking about targets drives action by those who are charged with the responsibility for supporting people who have a drug problem.

In that regard, will the minister consider setting one target in particular, on the level of methadone use?

Does he accept that meeting such a target would indicate the success of the strategy?

There are huge challenges around the issue of hidden harm.

It is a scandal that the torch is shone on the lives that some of our children live only by those who are raising issues about antisocial behaviour in their communities.

Only then do we learn about some of the experiences that too many of our children have, and that is wrong.

We have a strategy for young carers, but we do not say often enough that too many of those young people are caring for adults who have addiction problems and that that is inappropriate.

I urge the minister to confirm that he will place the drug strategy in the broader context of the Administration's policies on education, housing, employment, justice and enforcement.

I know that there are anxieties locally about projects that support people into work and which work by addressing those problems.

I note the strategy document on drugs.

However, if the minister resources families that have experienced a problem with drugs to talk about what needs to be done in our communities to address the broader problems that are faced there, there will be a large return for that effort.

Therefore, I want to know what support there is for family support projects.

Further, I want to know that schools will not only provide education, but will be places in which the teachers and staff identify children who are in need; schools should be the first place in which it is seen that a child is not being nurtured.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has described the skills strategy as demand led—does it still have a place for those with drug and addiction problems, for whom employment is an important bridge?

I ask the minister to respond to the comments that were made about the power of Crimestoppers to use proceeds-of-crime money in the communities in which it was harvested to give people a voice.

I know constituents who whisper on the telephone in case people hear them and think that they are talking to the police.

I urge the minister to support Crimestoppers and other initiatives that give a voice to those who are most intimidated by the consequences of drug problems in our communities.