The UK’s drug policy is failing: can Scotland do better?

It recently emerged that the recorded number of drug deaths in Scotland reached a
record high last year. The National Records of Scotland (NRS) reported that 1,187 people had
lost their lives in 2018. Compared to the 4,359 people who died from drug poisoning in
England and Wales over the same period, this number doesn’t seem so large. There is,
however, a very stark difference in population. In England and Wales, that number equates to
76 deaths per million people. In Scotland that soars to a frightening 218 deaths per million
people. In a perfect society these figures would be sitting at zero. So… what do we do?
The Scottish Government has been getting pelters over these figures and at first, that
does make sense. Tory MP Colin Clark displayed his sheer ignorance on BBC Scotland’s
‘Debate Night’ when he claimed that drug policy is a devolved issue. A frightening assertion
from a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Scotland Office – presumably he hasn’t read his
job description.

Despite what Colin Clark and his party may say, the Scottish Government is in no way
solely responsible for these horrifying statistics. For months, Westminster has been rejecting
repeated calls from Glasgow City Council, from the Scottish Government, from politicians
across all parties – even some Conservatives – for the powers to introduce and trial safe drug
consumption rooms in Glasgow, a city where more than 13,000 problem drug users could
benefit from such a policy. These facilities would have trained medical staff and sterile
equipment to help prevent people being infected with HIV or Hepatitis C – two of the most
prevalent diseases affecting problem drug users. It’s a programme which is expected would
cost £2.3 million per year to run, no small amount, I concede. I’d argue that preventing the
almost 80 cases of HIV which arose from drug use between 2015 and 2016 is of far more
value.

Contrary to Clark’s claims, this policy would, of course, not legalise drug use. This
insinuation is not only telling in its utter deception and buffoonery. It also stinks of simply
another futile attempt at fearmongering by an increasingly frightened, irrelevant and
powerless UK government. A government which is not prepared to face the consequences of
its decisions: decisions such as its refusal to allow local politicians to address issues which
they are uniquely qualified to address and to listen to the needs of their constituents and act
accordingly.

In the same programme, Ian Blackford (The SNP’s Westminster leader) suggested
that drug policy be devolved to Holyrood. The Scottish Government has a successful track
record of legislating against such issues. In a report from BASL, alcohol related deaths in
Glasgow fell by 21.5% in 2018. This may be attributed to the Scottish Government’s
implementation of minimum unit pricing in May of the same year. Thus, Scotland proves
once again that it is a world leader as the first country in the world to introduce such
legislation, with modelling suggesting 392 lives could be saved in the first five years.
Why shouldn’t the solution to this problem be decided by the people Scotland has
chosen to represent them? It is Scotland’s MSPs who are best situated to discuss, debate and
ultimately try to stop this tragic, needless loss of life.

Image: via Daily Record

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