A DRUG death campaigner has criticised the Scottish Government’s plan to pilot a phone line in the region instead of funding existing grassroots recovery services in North Ayrshire.

The anonymous telephone helpline, called “Never Use Alone” is to being trialled in North Ayrshire alongside South Ayrshire and Glasgow, before being rolled out across Scotland.

Awarded £100k, it will be run by the charity We Are With You, who say they will focus only on the safety of drug users.

Yet, a North Ayrshire drug support worker -who lost her sister to addiction a decade ago - is asking why nobody in the region has been consulted prior to these announcements.

Louise McPhater has spent 15 years dealing with people in crisis and offering them help and support, creating the first official centre and recovery community in Vineburgh, Irvine. She has compared the launch of free phone service where staff will stay on the line with people who are using drugs as ‘using a bucket of water to put out an inferno.’

She said: “All of a sudden they come out with these ideas - I don’t know where they get them from but they certainly haven’t been from talking to the people who are actually affected in my opinion.”

In a week where she knew of at least 14 prevented overdoses in her community, she has spoken to the Herald about her concerns about the lack of engagement with existing groups who are on the ‘front line’ of supporting current drug users and people in recovery in her community.

She said: “It’s not an issue with the projects, it is the way it has been done is our concern.

“As far as we are led to believe, we were not approached, it was just announced. The government made these announcements without consulting anybody from the area who work in this field, they haven’t spoken to any groups who have been advocating for recovery.”

The phone line borrows a methodology followed by a faith group in North America called Grenfell Ministries who set up an Overdose Prevention Lines service in 2020.

According to their own figures, they have received 3000 calls in a year, preventing 17 overdoses across the states in a year.

However, Louise is sceptical about drug users choosing to call a government helpline when they use, adding: “People who are taking drugs know what they are doing is criminal.

“So are they going to phone the government when they are doing something deemed criminal.

“The recovery worker in here, they get the calls all the time and they go and meet people face to face, but it is at capacity.

“My sister had that journey and we had to live and learn unfortunately how to live with an addict. We are the people who are dealing with this, and I’ve not met a single person, be it service workers, care workers and people in recovery, who has thought this was a good idea. This is the biggest waste of money that we can see right in front of our eyes.

“This is never going to do anybody any good whatsoever.

“We can struggle to get any funding in to keep us sustainable, and we are the first line that meet the people who have the problem. £100k could keep my centre running for two years, with paid workers.”

A spokesperson from We Are With You said: “The phone line has been developed in consultation with the Scottish Ambulance Service, including relevant local authorities and aims to help anyone who wants to stay safer when using drugs in the catchment area. The initial areas have been selected to understand how the service works in both urban and rural parts of the country.Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the greatest number of deaths in 2020 followed by Ayrshire and Arran with 27 per 100,000 people.

“With a strong footprint across Ayrshire and Arran, With You has good relationships with relevant local commissioners and services. When developing the service, we also consulted service users, and 70 percent said that they would use the phone line.”

“Recent data confirms that people found alone accounted for 46 percent of drug related deaths in Scotland, showing a clear need for this type of action. Having a trained professional on the other end of a phone will make a difference and save lives. Other evidence also supports this initiative.”