By Hugh Hill, Director of Services
20 years ago Portugal, in response to increasing drug deaths, took the radical step towards legalising the personal use of drugs and focusing on treatment rather than punishment. The change in approach had a huge impact on drug deaths and now Portugal has one of the lowest figures in Europe, around 6 deaths per million population. In contrast Scotland has 315 deaths per million, the highest in Europe and North America.
Over the last five years we have been actively seeking solutions and approaches to keep the people we support alive and it’s beginning to bear fruit with a dramatic drop in drug deaths in our residential services last year to one, still one too many!
Still with more to do we looked at Portugal and reached out to Crescer as an organisation we recognised was working on the streets and at the forefront of a harm reduction approach. We met online and what we found was an organisation that was exciting, innovative, committed to people and driven by care and compassion. Straight off the bat we liked them!
We immediately realised that there was a huge amount we could learn from their work and similarly we could share our work with them, they were very interested in the Managed Alcohol Program. We’ve since set up two online networking events Harm Reduction and Housing First with more planned and at the same time invited some of their team to come join us, enter the lovely Martinho, Ary, Andreia and Catarina who have spent the whole of last week with us.
Over the week I think we’ve collectively managed to drain their heads of every conceivable answer to our questions and there are some really interesting ideas coming forward which we’ll work on over the coming weeks. We’re also really interested in their employment program, how they deliver street outreach, housing first and their work with non Portuguese nationals, they do a lot for a small charity.
We are hoping to continue exchanging staff between our two organisations and build a long term relationship with Crescer. I appreciate it will be a hard sell asking our staff to spend time in Portugal but we’ll try.
Upon arrival their arms were soon filled with furry coo’s, tablet, everything Tunnocks, Steven Brown Coos, TShirts and lots more, thanks to the generosity of our teams. Not only that but the MAP team even had a piper lead them into the service! I think those guys trumped us all. However, more than that, we hope that they will leave Scotland with a genuine sense of the generosity, positive spirit, love and beauty of Scotland and its people.
Behind all of this loveliness remains the fact that substance use is a huge issue for our guys and behind that is lots of trauma and poverty, of hope and ambition, and that’s what we aim to change. Thank you to our own lovely staff for looking after our Portuguese friends.