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Problem drug use in Scotland: Government response published

7 September 2020

  • Committee publishes Government response to 2019 report on problem drug use in Scotland.
  • Report recommended shift to public health approach and the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.
  • Committee to follow-up with round table event.

The Scottish Affairs Committee has today published the Government’s response to the Problem Drug Use in Scotland Report published in the last Parliament.

The inquiry

An all-time high 1,187 people in Scotland lost their lives in 2018. Tackling the issue had been fraught by public disagreement between UK and Scottish Governments over their divergent approaches and overlapping responsibilities. The inquiry, which reported in November 2019, provided an evidence-based set of policy recommendations to help provide a more effective approach.

Conclusions of the inquiry

It concluded that innovative approaches were needed to address the root causes of problem drug use. It recommended that problem drug use should be treated as a public health issue with cross-departmental support, for the decriminalisation of small amounts of drugs for personal use, and the opening of a pilot safe consumption room in Glasgow.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart MP said:

"The predecessor Committee’s report on problem drug use in Scotland followed one of the most extensive drugs inquiries in Scotland ever conducted. We argued that a public health approach will do better at tackling the drivers of problem drug use, as opposed to the stigmatisation offered by the current criminal justice approach that effectively blocks routes to recovery.

We are surprised and disappointed by the Government’s almost wholesale rejection of recommendations by a Westminster Select Committee after collecting a substantial body of evidence from people with lived experience, charities and academics, as well as legal, criminal justice and health professionals…few of these will find comfort in this response.

On the proposal for safe consumption facilities, the Government has repeatedly stressed that this is something that they do not favour. In their response to our report they re-iterated the legal challenges to a pilot being established even though we saw for ourselves how effective these facilities have been in saving lives in a number of countries round the world. The report of the previous Committee encouraged the Government to do what is necessary to approve the proposed pilot scheme in Glasgow. This would give people using drugs greater exposure to the full range of services to help them recover. More lives could be saved.

The Government describes its approach to tackling the issue as ‘evidence-based’ but offers little evidence supporting it and fails to address why the evidence we collected should be discounted. We’d like to see the Government’s evidence, as well as an outcome document from February’s UK Drugs Summit.

What is evident is there’s little change in the Government’s drugs strategy despite the death rate in Scotland from problem drug use remaining stubbornly higher than any country in Europe. This fact itself should demonstrate that the current approach isn’t working. This is undoubtedly a public health emergency.

The current Committee will examine in more detail the Government’s response and will follow-up with a round table event on the topic later in the month. The coronavirus crisis has presented new hurdles to those seeking recovery and access to services has become more difficult while the scale of the problem has not diminished.”

Further information

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