Drug-related deaths: Scotland should move forward with safe consumption rooms after ‘ban’ fails – Joseph Silke

Safe consumption rooms would provide drug addicts with life-saving treatment if they overdose (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)

This doesn’t just apply to Covid-19, it also applies to the urgent drug crisis. The Scottish government is spectacularly failing to save lives, and the British government is complicit. It’s time for a new approach: to start treating drug abuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue.

Drug-related deaths in Scotland have continued to soar to tragic new heights, by far the worst in all of Europe. The scale of drug-related deaths in Scotland is a stain on the moral fabric of the country.

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A total of 1,339 people died in 2020, the highest number on record. Everyone is a lost partner, a child, a parent, a brother, a friend. There has been a disproportionate impact on the most disadvantaged areas of the country, particularly parts of Glasgow, Ayrshire and Arran, and Tayside.

One constant of the forbidden is that the poor and the vulnerable suffer the most. The rate of drug-related deaths in the most deprived areas of Scotland is now 18 times higher than the rate in the least deprived areas.

In other respects, however, the crisis is evolving. It’s an image that has gone beyond the old Trainspotting stereotype. Yes, heroin is still a major feature, but death today usually involves a cocktail of substances, with cheap benzodiazepines now available for as little as 50p a pill.

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Drug-related deaths in Scotland: 1,339 drug-related deaths have been recorded in Scotland, on …

The crisis in Scotland has grown steadily over the past 20 years, but has been particularly acute since 2013, when deaths started to spiral out of control. Despite the increase, the Scottish government slashed funding for drug and alcohol services by £ 47million between 2015 and 2019. Nicola Sturgeon roughly suggested that her administration had lost its ‘eye’ and is now rushing to commit additional funds for drug addiction. services.

Adequate funding for these services is crucial, but a true public health approach requires a more fundamental change in the way the state treats drugs. Sturgeon pointed out that the Home Office retains primary responsibility for combating drug abuse in the UK. This does not explain why per capita drug deaths in Scotland are nearly five times higher than in England and Wales, but it is true that to deal with this emergency, Westminster and Holyrood will have to work together.

A public health approach has been successful abroad. At the turn of the millennium, Portugal was grappling with an alarming increase in deaths from opioid overdoses, as well as drug-related infections like HIV and hepatitis. Their government took the drastic decision to decriminalize all drugs in 2001, which means low-dose possession has become a tort rather than a criminal offense. Those in need are now referred to support services by a local commission, rather than to a judge for punishment.

The years since the change in strategy have seen dramatic declines in the number of deaths from overdoses and drug-related infections, as well as a reduction in drug-related criminal activity and incarceration rates.

The number of drug-related deaths in Portugal is now one of the lowest in Europe. In 2019, there were just six deaths per million people aged 15 to 64, compared to 318 per million in Scotland for the same year. Nor has it led to an explosion in recreational drug use, with drug use consistently remaining below the European average.

Decriminalization, however, was only part of the story. These results were made possible by a revolution in cultural attitudes towards those who have a problematic relationship with drugs.

Ending the crippling stigma associated with drugs has been absolutely essential to Portugal’s success. “The greatest effect,” explained the country’s drug policy architect Dr João Goulão, “has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to seek help. professional without fear. ” Beyond funding, treatment services need to be compassionate and trustworthy.

The Scottish Conservatives of Douglas Ross are due to present a bill on the right to clawback to the Scottish Parliament. The proposals would enshrine the right to drug treatment, and even accommodation, in law.

It would be a welcome step, but Ross and his party have rejected the broader reforms needed to deal with the crisis, including the SNP’s proposals for the deployment of safe consumption rooms, which could protect users who are going to eat. drug anyway, but if not, risk overdosing away from anyone who can help you.

The problem is, there is no indication that Westminster is willing to consider a public health approach. Recent press briefings suggest that Boris Johnson and Priti Patel intend to launch a new prohibitionist crusade. The Prime Minister rejected potentially life-saving safe consumption rooms, saying he did not want to do anything that “would encourage more drug use.” While the Home Office still governs drug policy, a change seems unlikely.

This despite the fact that a public health approach enjoys public support. A study published by the Caledonian University of Glasgow last year found that 61% of Scots support the introduction of safe consumption rooms in Scotland. If the Scottish government goes ahead as planned, the UK government should not oppose it.

Scotland is one of the great cradles of the Enlightenment, a movement that sought to use reason and science to challenge the mistaken assumptions of authority. Fifty years after the passage of the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971, it is clear that the ban has failed.

The current regime is bowing to outdated dogmas and challenging the growing body of evidence that a public health approach works. It is time to treat victims of drug abuse as patients, not criminals. If not now when?

Joseph Silke is communications officer at liberal-conservative think tank Bright Blue

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