Nicola Sturgeon says drug misuse is a national problem and is not particular to North Ayrshire.

It comes as the First Minister visited Harper House as it officially opened on Canal Street in Saltcoats on Monday, November 21.

The new national specialist family service is the first dedicated service of its kind in Scotland for families affected by a parent’s mental health, drug and alcohol problems.

Though the nation's leader wanted to make clear that the centre has been funded to help tackle Scotland's drug problems, regardless of where it has been opened.

She told the Herald: “It doesn’t highlight a particular drug problem in this area of the country - I think it’s important to be clear about that.

“Obviously Scotland overall has a big challenge in terms of drugs misuse and the numbers of people dying from drug misuse, so we are making very strenuous efforts and investing a lot of resource into expanding the range of treatment options which are available to people.

“This facility here in North Ayrshire is the first of its kind in Scotland and therefore, it’s a really positive development - somewhere that parents can get the care and treatment they need but also have their children and families with them.

“It not only provides good treatment for people who need it for drug and alcohol misuse, but helps to keep families together and helps people rebuild their lives with their families around them.

“So this is a really good development, and one that I think we will see, in time, replicated in other parts of the country.”

While returning to her home county of North Ayrshire, she was asked how attitudes towards drugs, and drug users, have changed since she grew up in nearby Dreghorn.

Irvine Times: The First Minister was shown around the facility on Monday, November 21.The First Minister was shown around the facility on Monday, November 21. (Image: Phoenix Futures Scotland)

Ms Sturgeon added: “I know North Ayrshire well. I grew up not far away from here. When I was growing up in the 1980s, drug misuse was a problem. It was a challenge. It was something I think most people growing up here were aware of.

“In actual fact, it’s the extent of that challenge back then that we are still living with the implications of today.

“Many people today who will suffer a range of health problems because of drug misuse will have perhaps started taking drugs back in the time where I was growing up. That is part of the reality.

“I think there is much more understanding about addiction today than there would have been back then.

“Addiction is an illness. It’s not something people are responsible for. It’s not something people should be judged for and there needs to be holistic support for people to help them get out of drug or alcohol misuse and rebuild their lives with the right support around them and that’s what a facility like this does so well.”

The First Minister was joined on her visit by MSP Angela Constance, who also serves as Scotland's minister for drugs policy.

Both moved to allay the fears expressed by some Three Towns residents about the centre opening so close to their doorstep.

Irvine Times: Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Constance were both shown the extensive family facilities on offer.Nicola Sturgeon and Angela Constance were both shown the extensive family facilities on offer. (Image: Phoenix Futures Scotland)

Ms Contstance told the Herald: “It’s my job to lead a national mission to save lives. I know that North Ayrshire, like other parts of Scotland, is impacted by the drugs death crisis.

“I have absolutely no doubt that this world class service will support people into recovery, into better futures, here in North Ayrshire but also across Scotland. This is a facility to be proud of.

“I know that Phoenix Future have worked very closely with local services in North Ayrshire and actually they have been very encouraged and speak very highly of the good working relationship that they now have with services in North Ayrshire."

Ms Sturgeon added: “I don’t think people should be concerned. We are all part of a society, and we all have issues and challenges in our lives, and when we do, all of us would want and expect support and for the communities that we are part of to rally round, not to judge and to have hostility.

“I am not aware that there is large scale hostility here, but I certainly would encourage people to understand what a facility like this is for and the support it is seeking to give.”

Harper House on Canal Street is located at the site of the former Seabank Nursing Home.

The project was awarded around £8m in Scottish Government grant funding in 2021, prior to the commencement of work. Phoenix Futures planned to spend around £600,000 to refurbish the former home.

Families will generally stay at the new service for three to six months on prearranged placements. Upon completing the programme they will return to their home local authority where aftercare support will be in place to help them continue their recovery.

There is a dedicated team of 31 people at Harper House, with the facility to be staffed 24/7, and the majority of staff have been recruited from North Ayrshire.