David Dyson: A New Year’s Resolution to End Drug Deaths in Scotland

My name is David Dyson and I live in Dundee having moved from Yorkshire in 2009. I had an addiction problem which took the form of using cocaine, ecstasy and speed (otherwise known as methamphetamine). Everything came to a head in 2010 when I became homeless and was placed in a Salvation Army resettlement unit.

I came to faith and got clean in 2010, with support from those working at Eagles Wings Trust. I started volunteering at Dundee Foodbank and led a small project at Menzieshill Parish Church called ‘The Giving Garden’. During this time, I developed a vision for seeing lives transformed and healed from drug and alcohol addiction.  

In 2013, I started The Reconnection Project at City Church in Dundee to help people into recovery. Reconnection became a registered charity in 2015 and currently has a board of trustees with volunteers spread across Dundee and also in Arbroath, where our second site at the Windmill Christian Centre is based.

The Reconnection Project runs recovery groups and skills workshops around art, gardening and woodwork, each of which offer a route to education and employment. At present, we have prisoners on placement from Castle Huntly open prison and others on community payback from the Criminal Justice department in Dundee.

Scotland needs a new approach to drugs. There are major issues with existing policy which contributes to the epidemic of addiction in Dundee and drug death statistics across Scotland. As a nation, we are known as the drug death capital of Europe and, although funding is being dispensed, political leaders still seem lost in the search for a silver bullet.

The methadone programme was intended to be a temporary fixture to direct people towards heroin-free lives. However, several decades on, drug-related crime and deaths still rise in disproportionately high levels in Scotland by comparison to England and we have some whose addictions have been sustained by the state for 30 or 40 years.

Fraser Nelson wrote about the “‘maintenance’ of heroin addicts [by] administering methadone”. He recently quoted an individual responsible for the policy, who said neither the Home Office nor the NHS believe in rehabilitation. They said: “It was the easy option: to stick them full of drugs so they’re sedated and don’t commit crime.”[1]

Despite pooling resources, statutory services are buckling under high caseloads and are infamous for their lack of support and compassion. A report in 2019 by Dundee Drugs Commission said: “We learned about inadequacies in our local systems and services [and] heard from individuals who feel the system failed them.”[2]

The model of treatment predominates, rather than an approach focused on recovery and supporting people towards full lives, which means people remain locked in their addictions and there is little demonstrable evidence that harm reduction approaches present a thoroughfare to real and sustained recovery.

By contrast, grassroots charitable organisations run by people with experience of addiction and long-term recovery are, in my view, best situated to empathise as well as support people out of addiction. They understand more than anyone not only the symptoms but also causes of addiction and can provide adequate support.

Our focus is transformation as opposed to what some simply call rehabilitation. We know of many who enter statutory rehabilitation for drugs and are given one week to detox and two weeks for alcohol before being sent home with no support to deal with the root issues upon which addiction are almost always predicated.

Dundee needs a house for transformation run from the grassroots and supplying a suite of services from life counselling and skills training with a central focus of freeing people from the coil of addiction with vocational or volunteering opportunities at the other end.

Former addicts, who often have a history of incarceration, regularly find it almost impossible to secure employment and move on with their lives due to the stigma of addiction. Additionally, freeing people from addiction without opportunities simply trades one form of slavery with another.

If, in 2022, we are serious about addressing drug deaths, our New Year’s resolution should be to explore new options. While there has been recognition of approaches like the Portuguese model[3], there has been little consideration given to residential services run by those with personal experience and unrivalled levels of success.

This approach really works as I discovered in 2020 when I spent a month at St Stephen’s Society in Hong Kong. They have been working with people in addiction for over half a century but it was incredible meeting addicts who entered the residence and left transformed and living out their recovery with ongoing support from the community.

In Scotland, we transfer prisoners from one hopeless existence to another by moving them upon release from a prison full of addicts to a hostel full of addicts, which is like going from the frying pan into the fire. Instead, imagine we offered ex-prisoners a choice, which included the option of residential wrap-around care and support.

Imagine Dundee – the city of discovery – becoming a European centre for recovery.

David Dyson, Dundee Member, Restore Scotland and Project Manager at The Reconnection Project  

[1] Nelson, F. (2021), Available at: ’Deaths of despair: how Britain became Europe’s drugs capital’, The Spectator, 11 December (Accessed: 30 December 2021)

[2] Dundee Drugs Commission (2019), Available at: ’Responding to Drug Use with Kindness, Compassion and Hope Report’ (Accessed: 30 December 2021)

[3] Garavelli, D. (2019), Available at: ’Dani Garavelli: Scotland’s drugs tragedy demands hard questions not glib answers’, The Scotsman, 21 July (Accessed: 30 December 2021)