MPs call for decriminalisation of drug use to tackle Scotland’s opioid crisis

Ministers should bring in new laws to create so-called ‘shooting galleries’ for safer drug use

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Monday 04 November 2019 07:23 GMT
MPs called for the Department of Health and Social Care to take over responsibility from the Home Office for drug abuse
MPs called for the Department of Health and Social Care to take over responsibility from the Home Office for drug abuse (Getty)

MPs have called for personal drug use to be decriminalised to try and help stop an epidemic of drug-related deaths.

The UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee has called for radical reforms to the UK’s approach to drug use demanding new laws to allow for the creation of so-called “shooting galleries” for drug users to safely get high.

If the Westminster government was unwilling to do this it should devolve the powers to Scotland, the committee said.

Its report also criticised the Scottish government for making the situation worse by cutting funding for some services and said it must do better if it is to demand more powers.

MPs said the current approach of treating drug use as a crime was “counter-productive” and that decriminalising minor drug use would help users to get treatment and mean the government could focus on suppliers and drug dealers.

The committee described its investigation as one of its “most extensive” it had ever carried out and was prompted by the widespread concerns over problem drug use in Scotland.

Drug-related deaths north of the border reached an all-time high last year of 1,187.

In July Scotland’s public health minister Joe FitzPatrick MSP called on home secretary Sajid Javid to attend an emergency summit as statistics showed the country’s drugs death rate, per head of population, was almost three times that of the UK as a whole.

The National Records of Scotland statistics show the majority of deaths involved more than one substance, with heroin and other opiates a factor in 86 per cent of fatalities.

MPs heard evidence from families and those who had lived through drug abuse as well as testimony from health services and expert academics.

It also visited Portugal, Germany and Canada to learn how other countries were tackling the issue.

The report said a public health approach was needed with government policies being based on evidence and called for the Department of Health and Social Care to take over responsibility from the Home Office.

Chair of the Committee, Pete Wishart MP, said: “Throughout our inquiry we heard tragic accounts of the pain and suffering that problem drug use is causing in Scotland.

“If this number of people were being killed by any other illness, the government would declare it as a public health issue and act accordingly. The evidence is clear – the criminal justice approach does not work.

Decriminalisation is a pragmatic solution to problem drug use; reducing stigma around drug use and addiction, and encouraging people to seek treatment.”

The MPs said it was a matter of “deep regret” that the Home Office had blocked moves to create a drug use facility in Glasgow adding the evidence for it was “the most compelling in Europe”.

“Every drug death is preventable, and these centres could play a vital role in addressing Scotland’s drug crisis”, Mr Wishart added.

The Scottish government was criticised for cutting funding for alcohol and drug services in the 2016-17 budget, which the committee said had made the situation worse.

It said if the Scottish government wanted more powers it must demonstrate it is doing all it can with the existing powers it has.

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