The illicit use of drugs and particularly opiates, benzodiazepines and psychostimulants, causes significant problems within Scotland as it does in other parts of the UK and Europe. Some of these problems are primarily social in nature, involving, for example, increases in acquisitive crime, prostitution, unemployment, family breakdown and homelessness. Others are more clearly associated with health problems, for example, the transmission of communicable diseases (HIV, hepatitis), injecting-related injuries and increased demands upon health care services.

Similarly, alcohol problems are a major concern for public health in Scotland. Short-term problems such as intoxication can lead to risk of injury and is associated with violence and social disorder. Over the longer term, excessive consumption can cause irreversible damage to parts of the body such as the liver and brain. Alcohol can also lead to mental health problems, for example, alcohol dependency and increased risk of suicide. In addition, alcohol is recognised as a contributory factor in many other diseases including cancer, stroke and heart disease. Wider social problems include family disruption, absenteeism from work and financial difficulties. The Alcohol Framework 2018: Preventing Harm, published by the Scottish Government includes the estimate from the 2010 study, The Societal Cost of Alcohol Misuse in Scotland for 2007, that the impact of this excessive consumption is estimated to cost Scotland £3.6 billion each year.

Our Challenge

There are a number of characteristics in the behaviours, profile and patterns of drug use and people who use them that both differentiate and add complexity to the nature of our challenge, such as:

  • High risk patterns of Drug use, including multiple different drug (poly drug use) and alcohol.
  • High levels of social depravation, poverty and highly stigmatised people.

Drug Misuse & Treatment in Scottish Prisons

From 2009/10 to 2018/19, Testing was conducted across all Scottish prisons annually. During one month of the year, prisoners arriving in custody were voluntarily tested for the presence of illegal or illicit drugs. Similarly, those leaving custody during the month were tested to assess progress towards the ‘reduced or stabilised’ offender outcome. Some key points been:

  • In 2018/19, of the tests carried out at prison entry 75% were positive for drugs
  • The illegal/illicit drugs most commonly detected when entering prison in 2018/19 were cannabis benzodiazepines, opiates and cocaine
  • In 2018/19, of the tests carried out when leaving prison 26% were positive for illegal/illicit drugs

Recovery Services in Scottish Prisons

Recovery services are provided by a range of NHS and Third sector commissioned services, the three prisons we are working with also invite Lived Experiences Recovery organisations to partner with them and embed Lived Experience into their Recovery Agenda.

All of our partner prisons work with the Anonymous fellowships (AA, NA, CA), the local Recovery Communities and a variety of partner organisations. We are proud to have strong partnerships with HMP Edinburgh, HMP Glenochil and HMP Perth, where there is a recognition that our Recovery Coaching Qualification brings a unique benefit to the residents and forms an integral part of the establishments Recovery Agenda.

Not only that, but our qualification gives a broad foundation for residents to become Peer Mentors and Recovery Coaches themselves, increasing recovery capacity and getting the recovery message out across the prison.


A recovery coach is a non-clinical person who helps remove personal and environmental obstacles from the recovery community and serves as a personal guide and mentor in the management of personal and family recovery. Recovery Coaches provide strength-based support with substance dependent clients or clients who are in recovery from substances, co-dependency, or other addictive behaviours. They also work well with clients who are actively struggling with addiction as well as clients who are currently in a recovery program or out of a Recovery Program and want to simply discover who they are and who want to move from “Recovery to Discovery”.

Recovery coaches take a “hands on” approach and get involved with the client to help find ways to stop addiction (abstinence) or reduce harm (Harm Reduction) associated with addictive behaviours. Recovery coaches help find resources for Harm Reduction, detox, treatment, family support, education, local or online support groups, help a client create a change as well as assist the client in coming up with a “Life Plan” to recover on their own through Life Coaching.

A Recovery coach can work with a client in a traditional 12 step program like AA or in a non 12 step mutual aid program like SMART Recovery. It is important for the Recovery Coach to be prepared to use whatever method of recovery the client sees useful. Many clients who are going through recovery, or have gone through recovery, reported that Recovery Coaches have been extremely useful to move them Beyond Recovery so that they can move forward and have useful, productive, and purposeful lives, which is something that they do not seem to get from a therapist, counsellor, sponsor, or health care provider. Recovery Coaches go above and beyond every step of the way through the recovery process with their clients.

RCS deliver our 10 session self-coaching course across four prisons in Scotland, this is delivered by our staff team and volunteers across the prisons and Borders Recovery Community.