A top Aberdeen police officer has urged the public to stop stigmatising drug addicts and alcoholics who congregate in the city centre.
Detective Sergeant (DS) Scott McKay told The P&J that stigma is a “huge thing” for drug addicts and causes them “anxiousness”, adding that judgement by others is a “huge roadblock” in their recovery.
His comments came after The P&J joined officers on drug raids across Aberdeen as part of a crackdown on county lines drug gangs, who exploit vulnerable people.
Their victims – often drug dependent – help flood the city with illegal drugs, which end up in communities across the region.
DS McKay said that drug dependency requires a “public health approach”, highlighting that the north-east is doing this through Operation Protector, a collaboration between police, councils and drug services.
He explains: “We proactively identify vulnerable people who have drug dependency and through multi-agency teams, which ordinarily would consist of a police officer, a worker from a drugs service and a housing officer.”
‘We need to break down that stigma’
The detective said: “It’s the old sort of example of crossing the road because you don’t feel safe walking towards somebody.
“Until we address that stigma and see these individuals as people, and not simply as drug dependent individuals who are actively looking to rob you or cause you any type of harm.
“Until that is addressed properly and the public realise that we need to break down that stigma, there will always be a little bit of anxiousness for individuals.”
After this, they will be referred into a drug or alcohol rehabilitation service, which could result in getting access to methadone or rehab, with the latter being the “extreme end of it”.
“But it’s not only about drugs and alcohol, it’s about building that relationship between client and professional,” DS McKay says.
Back to the issues in the heart of Aberdeen, the police have a regular “pod” located outside of M&S on St Nicholas Street, a crime hotspot in the city centre.
‘Reduce stigma around drug dependency’
It aims to address concerns that people may have and make them feel safer, or as DS McKay says: “To outreach to the public in order to reduce stigma around drug dependency.”
According to police, it has also been “really successful” in training individuals in life-saving Naloxone – a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of opioid drugs.
“Again, it’s reducing stigma and seeing that person lying on the ground as opposed to seeing a drug dependent individual on the ground,” DS McKay reiterates.
In a staunch warning to those bringing in drugs and causing misery to communities across the north-east, the detective says: “Those who are committing the most harm are being targeted proactively and tenaciously by our enforcement teams.”