The government must decriminalise drug possession for personal use in order to curb the “relentless increase” in drug-related deaths in Scotland, MPs have urged.
In a report released on Monday (4 November), a cross-party group of MPs also called for the creation of safe injection sites to reduce the immediate health risks associated with problem drug use.
Figures from the National Records of Scotland show that some 1,187 people died from drug-related causes in 2018. This is an all-time-high for Scotland, higher than any other European country, and nearly three times that of the UK as a whole.
“We call on the UK government to declare a public health emergency, and to work with the Scottish government to take urgent and radical steps to halt Scotland’s spiralling drug crisis,” the report said.
“Both governments must be open to implementing innovative evidence-based solutions with the scale and urgency required by Scotland’s drug crisis.”
The group argues the criminal justice approach to problem drug use has failed, and that it should instead be treated as a health issue.
It also described the omission of drug dependence from the Equality Act 2010, a law introduced to consolidate and update the UK’s patchwork of anti-discrimination legislation, as “unacceptable.”
The Act sets out when someone is considered to be disabled, and therefore protected from discrimination.
Although recognised in the UK and internationally as a health condition, drug dependency is not considered to be an “impairment” under the Act.
‘It Was A Sense Of No Hope And No Sense Of Purpose’
Ahead of tomorrow’s highly anticipated report we heard from people in Scotland who had been directly impacted by problem drug use and addiction. We thought it was important to share these stories with you.
— Scottish Affairs Committee (@CommonsScotAffs) November 3, 2019
Among those who gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee was 46-year-old Colin Hepburn.
He spoke of how he grew up in an area of urban deprivation, with high unemployment and crime, and he began using solvents at the age of 10.
“For me looking back, it was a sense of no hope and no sense of purpose. Just that: feeling heartbreak, feeling “what’s the point?” and I coped with that by using substances,” he said.
“I ended up using substances for nearly 30 years of my life before I got in recovery.”
The committee also heard from Sharon Brand, 41, of Dundee. She began drinking at the age of 12, before experimenting with cocaine and amphetamines during her teenage years.
She lost both of her grandparents and her dad emigrated in the space of three weeks. All of this happened while she was still in her twenties, meaning that she was left with no support system.
She said: “Everything fell apart around us and I was associated with people who were using heroin. I succumbed to that after about a year.”
A third – 26-year-old Aberdonian Hannah Snow – spoke of how she tried heroin for the first time aged 16 while in prison. She had grown up between residential care units and being placed with families, and said she was “in and out of prison a lot” over a ten-year period.
“For an 18-month period of time I was in an environment where I had no responsibilities — everything was done for me,” she said. “Going out into the community, I did not have the ability to communicate.”
The easiest option for her was to take drugs, she said, as she lacked the means to express herself while suffering with her addiction.
“That can sound like a cop-out and lack of taking responsibility for life choices that I should be making. I should not have been in prison in the first place. I understand that,” she added.
“But I think there is a gap in the process. If you look at it, a third of criminals who are released from prison are in addiction or have had addiction problems since they went into prison.”
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