More ‘Us and Them’ in #Addiction #Recovery

Addiction RecoveryFrom time to time, particularly on social-media platforms, I get dismayed about the verbal conflict that can erupt around the perceived ‘rights and wrongs’ in the advocacy of addiction and recovery support. Especially when all involved should be working together for the greater good. The latest example that caught my eye was the following piece…

A post on Twitter (see here) from the Scottish Drugs Forum (@SDFnews) generated an emotive response from Anne-Marie Ward, the CEO of Favor UK. The article being shared asked; “Who owns the drug problem, and who is to be bold?”

The article at the heart of the social-media spat was written by Professor Roy Robertson, an Edinburgh GP (working on the front-line of Scottish addiction support services) and a Professor of Addiction Medicine at Edinburgh University.

I’m not sure if she was speaking on behalf of The Faces and Voices of Recovery, or voicing her own opinions however; Anne-Marie was clearly unhappy about the content and/or the wording of the piece.

Justifiably so, some probably argue however; it’s possible that Anne-Marie (and those who agree) could also be missing Robertson’s underlying observations, or at least missing the point and context that I personally got from reading the piece.

Taking an objective view, devoid of preconceived assumptions about personality, professional background, or personal and organisational agenda, my thoughts were that Robertson was simply offering observations based upon his ‘lived-experience’.

His experience, gained from four decades of clinical knowledge, treating and supporting Scotland’s so-called Train Spotting generation, is something that appears to be undervalued (by some) but worryingly, is also something that some ‘in recovery’ are seeing as arrogant, simply because he added his personal observations the addictions debate, as a trained and experienced ‘expert’ (whatever experience you/we/I attribute to that particular status).

Choose Life, the frontline of Harm Reduction: …while the country engaged in moralising and government scare tactics, Robertson just got on with his job as a doctor, dealing with the immediate health needs of his patients – drug addicts or not. (Holyrood magazine)

Given Robertson’s background and his documented advocacy for harm-reduction interventions, compassionate appropriate treatment and effective recovery support, suggests to me that he probably isn’t the pompous arrogant professional that some suggest he might be. My perception was that he [Robertson] is merely stating an obvious but often dismissed fact; the causal factors of addictions are (in the main) societal, as opposed to purely clinical.

Most if not all those services, designed/tasked with the provision of ‘appropriate’ support for social support have and continue to be, impacted by under-funding and in many examples, a distinct lack of humanitarian direction.

I think managing addiction is like any chronic disease management, it’s a condition some people have to live with, and it is something caring services can help with. There are ways of intervening helpfully and there are a lot of resources to draw on, but the problem may not go away and that is difficult for individuals, their families and society to accept. (Roy Robertson)

Since when did there become any hierarchy of ‘lived-experience’? If there is one (and I would hope not), to suggest that only those who have lived through the trauma of personal addictions are ‘experts’ in the field of recovery is counter productive for treatment and recovery support but also, on a par with the shouts of “arrogance” railed against Robertson.

The Daily Record suggested that Robertson’s work had inspired Trainspotting (see here) but told how Danny Boyle’s blockbuster sequel (T2 Trainspotting) was still “a far cry from the lives of drug users battling years of addiction.”

Robertson’s piece in the Twitter spat (above) merely suggested that (many) “drug deaths stem from institutional neglect at every level” and to my mind, he’s probably correct.

In May 2018, during a BBC interview, Robertson showed that he is also a strong advocate for the decriminalisation of drugs use.

I do think we are moving towards an area where politicians and policy makers are going to start talking seriously about a new structure to control drugs which allows for the fact that we really don’t want to just put people in jail for the possession of drugs that they have for their own personal use. (Dr Roy Robertson)

In another piece around about the same time, but under emotive headlines with less than helpful wording, an article in The Times reported on Robertson’s support for the provision of clinically supervised drug consumption rooms;

The Times (27 May 2017): The Queen’s physician in Scotland has accused the UK and Scottish governments of failing vulnerable drugs users and urged ministers to back shooting galleries allowing them to inject safely amid a rise in cases of HIV. (Read more)

There is one thing that is for certain, something that all ‘sides’ of addiction recovery treatment and recovery support (professional and those with lived-experience of addiction) should be able to agree on. The subject was recently highlighted in the Holyrood Magazine editorial; Tackling Scotland’s drug crisis needs to be put ahead of political point-scoring. There is way too much human “collateral damage for failed policies around drugs…” This is not only shameful but also, the responsibility of everyone to help break this cycle of individual harm and the impacts on community public-health is incumbent upon us all.

The current statistics for drug related deaths in Scotland is unprecedented (see here) however; those deaths are also indicative of wider issues applicable to the remainder of the UK, not least the constant marginalisation of drug users by our criminal justice systems. The societal causes of addiction are, in the main, a public-health concern. The evidence is in, our Nation’s continued and failed War On Drugs must come to an end.

Favor UK: are “a national charity, made up of individuals in recovery, their friends and families and Community Recovery Organisations.” They operate as “a policy advocacy movement that is taking on issues of discrimination, social justice and service access.” They pride themselves in being, “a public and professional education movement, intent on challenging stigma.”