We must change how we tackle drug misuse - Lorna Slater
Here in Edinburgh 113 lives were lost. That’s more than two a week. While the individual experiences that led to these awful losses will differ hugely, there will be a trail of trauma, misery and pain that underpins each of them.
Drug misuse does not happen in isolation. The factors that lead to it are woven into so many wider social and economic issues. The people who are dying are victims, with many coming from abusive backgrounds and marginalised communities.
The rate of deaths is far higher in deprived areas than affluent ones, Many of the families and communities being hit the hardest are ones that are already in need of support.
That’s why the recent intervention by Scotland’s Minister for Drugs Policy, Elena Whitham, was so vital.
Writing to the Home Secretary, she called for essential new powers for Scotland, including the power to decriminalise drugs for personal supply as part of a wider review of drug laws. This is something the Scottish Greens have long-supported and called for.
Drug misuse is a public health crisis and must be treated as such. With a compassionate and health-led approach, we can reduce the stigma of addiction and help those who need it.
We know that this approach can work. We only have to look to Portugal, where these sorts of policies have been in place for years.
Since decriminalisation policies were passed in 2001, Portugal has sent far fewer people to prison for drug offences and taken an approach that focuses more on rehabilitation and support than punishment.
That is not to say the Portuguese government has got everything right, but the number of drug-related deaths is now one of the lowest in Europe and around one fiftieth of the rate in Scotland.
When faced with that kind of contrast and evidence we can’t look away.
There is important work being done by the Scottish Government and charities to improve services for people and families struggling with addiction. But if we are to see the full benefit of that work then our laws need to catch up.
Powers over health policy are already devolved to the Scottish Parliament. If we are to treat this like the health crisis that it is then powers over drugs legislation must rest with Holyrood too.
You cannot help people by stigmatising and criminalising them. We must take an evidence-led approach and focus on harm reduction.
That is what led to the smoking ban, minimum unit pricing on alcohol and a revolution in how we approach knife crime. These are some of the proudest achievements of devolution and have saved lives. We need that same spirit now.
Lorna Slater is Co-leader of the Scottish Greens