Inquiry – Problem drug use in Scotland

Problem Drug Use in ScotlandThe House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee have reported on their inquiry into Problem Drug Use in Scotland.

The report opens with the statement that “Scotland is in the midst of a drugs crisis” and then sets out a range of areas requiring action at both UK and Scottish levels.

The Committee notes that the UK Government treats drugs as a criminal justice matter, yet the evidence “overwhelmingly shows that the current approach is counterproductive”.  They call for the UK government to adopt a public health approach to drugs, transferring responsibility from the Home Office to the Dept. for Health and Social Care.

In line with the proposed public health approach, the Committee recommends that key equality legislation should be revised to provide ” full protection for people with problem drug use.”

The report acknowledges that safe drug consumption facilities “are proven to reduce overdoses, drug deaths, blood-borne virus infection rates, and public injecting”.  The Committee expresses disappointment that the Home Office has blocked plans to open such facilities in Scotland and calls on the UK Government to either bring forward enabling legislation or devolve the necessary powers to the Scottish Government.

Informed by international evidence and the experience of smaller, local schemes in the UK the Committee recommends the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.  They describe this as “a pragmatic response to problem drug use, and an effective
way of reducing stigma and encouraging people into treatment.”

The Committee heard that the “Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is outdated, its classification system is arbitrary, and that it is fundamentally incompatible with a public health approach.”.  The report calls for this Act to be “substantially reformed.” (para 68)

There is a call for the UK Government to take an evidence-based approach to drugs policy and accept expert advice, including that provided by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).  

The Scottish Government is encouraged to do more within its existing powers to address problem drug use within devolved areas including mental health, housing, education, community regeneration, policing and justice.  Scottish Drugs Forum CEO and DRNS Steering Committee member David Liddell called for this to include “availability of drug-checking services.” (para 70)

If the Scottish Government “wants to call for greater powers to tackle the drugs crisis it must demonstrate that it is doing everything it can within its existing responsibilities, including properly funding health services.” (para 71).  

Unless otherwise stated, all quotes above are from the summary provided at page 3 of the full report.

The full report, a list of conclusions and recommendations, and a summary report are available on the Scottish Affairs Committee website.

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