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EXCLUSIVE: Help at hand from police custody for drug offenders under new scheme to be piloted in Inverness

Medics Against Violence director Christine Goodall with Nicola Sturgeon at a past event in Kilmarnock.
Medics Against Violence director Christine Goodall with Nicola Sturgeon at a past event in Kilmarnock.

A national scheme is being piloted in Inverness to deal with people on the wrong side of the law over drug use.

On word from local police officers, one of five ‘pathfinders’, currently being recruited, will head for the station to offer immediate support to someone who has been arrested in connection with Class A or C drugs use.

The support won’t apply to people taking party drugs at the weekend – nor will it take the usual form of simply signposting the offender to agencies for help.

By listening to the offender’s story, the pathfinders will begin to unravel the complex issues, often involving trauma and harm, at the bottom of their drug abuse and help them get into a better place to start to deal with them.

The £200,000 Inverness Pathfinder project is a Medics Against Violence (MAV) initiative, fully funded by the Scottish Drugs Death Task Force (SDDTF) for the next two years.

Inspired by MAV’s successful Navigator programme, where ‘navigators’ work within hospital emergency departments in Dundee and across the central belt to offer addicts and alcoholics immediate emotional and practical support, the SDDTF approached the charity to set up something similar for drug users in police custody.

Tam Begbie will be co-ordinating the Pathfinder pilot in Inverness for Medics Against Violence.

MAV’s Tam Begbie is the national co-ordinator for the Navigator scheme, and is leading on the Inverness Pathfinder project.

He said: “The referral comes directly from the police officers on the ground.

“It will probably start with an informal chat with the individual to discuss what’s going on in their lives and what we can do that will prevent them from further issues with charges and criminal justice, hopefully tackling drug use from that point forward as well.

“It’s will be a very tailored and bespoke approach to that individual’s needs, empowering them to take charge of their lives.”

Mr Begbie said his experience with addicts and alcoholics in hospital revealed the wide range of issues they face, and why they chose drink or drugs as a form of self-medication.

“Trauma, mental health, homelessness, financial, broken family and social circles all contribute.

“Everyone is capable of recovery, and we will help stabilise them to a point where they will be able to engage effectively with services to help them long term.”

MAV founding member and director, surgeon Christine Goodall said the new initiative is designed to help people not to reoffend.

She said: “For many years we’ve been essentially arresting people and putting them in prison for health issues.

“The vast majority have significant trauma in their background and we’re hoping to get to the cause of their drug use and improve their health and wellbeing.

“We will have access to a ‘Running on Empty’ fund created from donations from the people we help in hospitals so we’ll be able to offer practical support- do they need the bus fare home from the police station? Have they got food in the house, do they need a bed for the night, do they need clothes?

“We can tap into the fund for basic needs for life, something that many other services, depending on the time of day or day of the week can’t do immediately.

“The pathfinders will also offer other practical help such as filling in forms and accompanying the person to the support services available.

“There will be no clockwatching, the pathfinders can take all the time they need for a successful outcome.”

At the end of the process, the pathfinders will write a report on the person’s progress to go before the sheriff if they have been charged.

Ms Goodall said: “It will be up to the sheriff to decide what they want to do in terms of disposal, we can’t influence, but we can provide information.”

MAV is in the process of selecting the Inverness pathfinders.

Mr Begbie said:“When people are at their lowest ebb they need that one person who will go the extra mile and go to extreme lengths to make sure they get the right support to start to look towards their future.”

“Relatability is very important and it’s likely we will have a mix of people with lived-experience and professional skills.”

Caithness councillor Karl Rosie has been involved in setting up the Pathfinder initiative.

Caithness councillor Karl Rosie

He said: “This initiative by Mav is a very exciting prospect  and typical of the response that has emerged from across Scotland to support  the need and desire to address the issues that are being experienced in our communities across Highlands.

“The already established structures  and partnerships that Mav has along with a proven track record of effecting meaningful change will enable a break in the cycle of criminalisation that  vulnerable people often face.”

He added: “It is very encouraging to experience the ongoing effort and determination that is being applied in a variety of means just now  with debate and discussion on media platforms, highlighting the issues of childhood adverse experience and trauma awareness being so useful in ending the stigma and informing the  system change requirements.

“We  have a fantastic opportunity to further develop the  support and services with our agencies, third  and voluntary sector partners.”

Mr Rosie has arranged a  seminar for councillors and council officers to give them insight into the Pathfinder pilot.

If successful, the SDDT plans to extend the scheme to Dundee and South Lanarkshire.