The scale of the problem north of the border has forced the Government to abandon attempts to stamp out all drug misuse and choose instead to pursue 'harm reduction' policies. Ministers say heroin addicts should be prescribed the opiate substitute, methadone, and addicts convicted of drugs offences should be offered counselling as an alternative to prison.
In a Scottish Office Drugs Task Force report published yesterday, officials argue that the pioneering methadone maintenance programme introduced in Edinburgh in 1988, should be extended across Scotland. GPs in Glasgow, in particular, where 73 young people have died from overdoses so far this year compared with 43 last year, should make the synthetic opiate available to the city's estimated 10,000 injecting heroin addicts, it says.
Speaking at the launch of the report in Edinburgh yesterday the Scottish Health minister, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, said Scotland faced 'special problems' which required new, imaginative solutions. He denied that the new approach indicated that the Government was 'going soft' on drugs. Convicted dealers would continue to receive long custodial sentences.
The Scottish Office is to spend pounds 600,000 in coming months on drugs education programmes for children as young as five. The report urges health boards to set up local Drugs Action Teams and it recommends an expansion of needle exchange schemes.
The study rejects decriminalising drugs. 'The signal would be that drug-taking is acceptable, encouraging the much wider use of drugs.'
Drugs in Scotland; Meeting the Challenge; report of Drugs Task Force; the Scottish Office.