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Calls to decriminalise all drugs as Scotland's deaths soar


Current drugs strategy is not working warn campaigners

Campaigners have called for the decriminalise of all drugs following new figures showing Scotland has the highest drugs deaths in Europe.

National Records of Scotland data shows there were 1,264 deaths in 2019, an increase of 77 on 2018 and the highest figure on record.

Despite the Scottish Government declaring these drugs deaths a public health emergency two years ago, today’s figures are higher than those reported for all the EU countries and are 3½ times higher than the UK as a whole.

Drug deaths went from 455 in 2007 to 1187 in 2018 – a rise of 160%

Joe Fitzpatrick, public health minister said the Scottish Government was doing “everything in its powers” to tackle rising drug deaths.

However the Scottish Drugs Forum called for radical action as the only way to control the epidemic of drugs-related deaths.

Analysis of the data shows far more drug-related deaths among men than women with the most affected areas being Glasgow, the Lothians, Lanarkshire and Tayside.

Much of the problem now centres on street opiates and so-called benzos: drugs such as Valium which, when mixed with opiates, can cause lethal consequences.

David Liddell, chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum warned: “We need to increase the range of services across Scotland to include drug consumption rooms, heroin-assisted treatment and assertive outreach.    

“We need to end the alienation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people with a drug problem - the root cause of this issue, which reflects badly on a culture and mindset that we have allowed to develop unchallenged over many years.  

 “The time to challenge and end all of that has come. As part of this approach, we should decriminalise the possession of all drugs and extend the current recorded police warning for cannabis possession to apply to all other drugs. 

 “There is a need for leadership and a national effort to ensure this potential is realised.”

Andrew Horne, director in Scotland at drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You (formerly Addaction) said the figures were at odds with Scotland’s proud identity with social justice.

He added: “We need to recognise that problematic drug use is often a reaction to people’s surroundings. Issues such as rising homelessness, poor mental health and a lack of economic opportunities in some areas all lead to people using drugs.

"It’s therefore no surprise that drug-related deaths are highest in Scotland’s most deprived areas, with the impact of the covid-19 crisis likely to exacerbate many of these issues unless decisive action is taken.”

Joe Fitzpatrick said the Scottish Government's Drug Deaths Taskforce outlines longer-term interventions being put in place to tackle the problem.

He added: “Significant progress has also been made in meeting the commitments set out in our alcohol and drug strategy – for example the new Residential Rehabilitation Working Group is continuing its work to ensure access to residential rehabilitation services for everyone who needs them.”



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