Every morning in Niddrie, we will-without fail-see a steady stream of pale, (many) toothless, shuffling, hopeless, humanity-trudging, zombie-like, to their local chemist to pick up their "script." It is a depressing sight to see. Once inside, some of them will have to drink their potion under the watchful eye of the chemist (as per legal instructions) or they will wander off back to their "homes", white paper bag in hand to digest the day's offerings.
Most, if they're lucky, will make it home unmolested from predators looking to steal their meds. Others will be "taxed" if they have unpaid debts and will go about their day empty handed and "rattling". Some will have picked up the meds for friends and/or family members either too stoned, depressed, or sick to come out of the house (or all three). It really is tragic.
A Staggering Problem
Recently released official statistics reveal there were 1,264 drug-related deaths in Scotland last year - a staggering number by any measure. It comes as no surprise to discover that many of those deaths were directly related to Methadone use (Heroin and Morphine accounted for more than a third). Incredibly, prescribed medication, which is meant to treat drug addiction, has been responsible for more deaths than Heroin. The original idea behind the ~38M(ish) tax payer funded Methadone programme was to find a safer way for drug addicts to reduce dependency on Class A drugs.
Yet, according to a recent paper by the Christian Institute:
It is supposed to reduce dependency on heroin, but critics say users just become 'parked' on methadone instead. The review, chaired by Dr Brian Kidd, an addictions expert, said they found little evidence of a 'real impetus' for addicts using methadone to recover.
Decades of first-hand experience of drug abuse, in all its forms (street and prescribed), have led me, sadly, to agree with the above statement. Most, if not all, of the people we work with who have a Methadone prescription have little or no motivation whatsoever to come off. Some are taking in excess of 100ml per day, along with Valium, other prescribed medication and (all too often) a combination of street drugs.
What we find, in our experience, is that Methadone is also used as a form of "street currency" for all sorts of transactions - from food to clothing. It is also stored up and used in a "oner" for a big blow out or swapped for Heroin and/or other drugs. Basically, I know of very few people who have gotten clean through using Methadone. David Liddell, director of Scottish Drugs Forum, says:
The continued high level of drug related deaths in Scotland highlights the ongoing need to reduce fatalities especially among opiate (heroin) users, who remain - by far - the group most likely to die from drug use in Scotland.
A Times newspaper investigation in 2010 concluded that addicts were pleading with the Government to help them get off drugs completely instead of just parking them on the Heroin substitute. One former addict, Rosie, told The Times that methadone is "almost more of a poison than heroin, there doesn't ever seem to be an end to it."
What Drug Addicts Need
Many of our schemes are becoming a wasteland for the forgotten generation(s) of users. What was so graphically highlighted in the film Trainspotting in the 1990's continues to blight the lives of thousands up and down the land.
So, what is the answer to our burgeoning drugs problem here in Scotland? Of course, it is only a life lived for the glory of God that can offer up any sort of hope or meaning to anybody, regardless of drug addiction or not. It is only a life handed over to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as Saviour that will result in true, ongoing spiritual and physical freedom from all forms of idolatry in our lives.
But is this enough? What is this, I hear you cry? Is this some sort of gospel plus theology? Is Jesus not enough for these people (indeed any people)? Yes, Jesus is enough. Yes, the gospel is the only power on this earth, or anywhere for that matter, capable of completely transforming any life, no matter how lowly. But addicts need a reason to get out of bed. They need a purpose. Very often they lack ambition. They lack dreams. They lack motivation. They lack sustained support and accountability. They lack true community.
Yes, they need love and sympathy. But they also need chastisement. They need to be pushed. They need to set goals. They need to meet a whole range of new people who do not know them or associate with them because of drugs. They need the community of God?s people. They need the church. They need daily, ongoing discipleship.
Many people come and go out of government sponsored rehab programmes and, to a (wo)man, they come out with little or no support. They go back to the communities that they know. Back to the same old faces. Maybe they get a drugs worker, a social worker, or some kind of support worker for one or two hours a week. It's not enough.
Their GP's have little more than 10-20 minutes per appointment. They need long-term, sustained support. They need to be in a community where they are not the centre of attention. Where they are not the only one with problems. Where life does not revolve around amusing them or making them feel better. They need to learn self-sacrifice. They need to learn humility. They need to learn to tell the truth. They need to learn service. They need to learn all of this in a safe environment. And for that to happen, there needs to really be a community. We can?t share our faith and then just leave them hanging when it comes to the hard work of discipleship.
A Spiritual Issue
The government has it wrong when it comes to our drugs problem. It is not just a social issue. It is a spiritual one. Only a life transformed from the inside by God's Holy Spirit can affect lasting change. The good news of Jesus really is good news today, because it changes people so supernaturally, it leaves you scratching your head.
But, far too many churches have it wrong too. They think that Jesus alone is the answer. They park people with the good news and then fail to deliver the follow up package. Or, they think that only the specialist few can handle the problem of this kind of discipleship. But it must be a community affair. There is no training necessary to live as God intended us to.
People need a change of heart. They need hope. They need a reason to put down the needle. They need to want to stop anaesthetising themselves. They need the gospel of Jesus Christ. But many church programmes are a bit like Methadone. They mean well and they offer a small window of respite in a chaotic world. But they just park people where they are. They teach them the basics, but they don't move them on. They don't integrate them fully into the family. They don't move them forward quickly enough into service.
Of course, there are no easy answers. But the local church can be a powerful tool in our broken and chaotic world if we not only hold out the light of the world, but live together in that light too.