A new drugs tsar has been appointed by the Scottish government to advise on policies to tackle the rising number of drugs deaths. Professor Catriona Matheson, from the University of Stirling, is a trustee of the Society for the Study of Addiction and convener of the Drugs Research Network Scotland.
The appointment of Professor Matheson comes ahead of the publication of new figures, which show Scotland’s drug deaths were over 1000 last year. She will head up a new taskforce to examine Scotland’s drugs laws. Specifically, the taskforce will examine the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and consider if elements of it could be devolved to allow medically-supervised drug consumption rooms (DCR), known as ‘fix rooms’.
DCRs would allow addicts to administer their own illegal drugs under medical supervision to prevent them injecting on the street. Evidence has shown that these kinds of facilities, that offer support and help from health professionals, can reduce the risk of overdose amongst drug addicts. The case for a DCR in Glasgow has been backed by Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government, including the First Minister. However, so far, the UK Home Office has refused moves to relax the current regulations and allow the consumption rooms to be created.
There are 118 such facilities around the world, which have saved thousands of lives across Canada, Spain, France, Germany and other nations, according to the Daily Record.
Professor Matheson told BBC radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme that a non-judgemental approach was needed to tackle drug misuse and there was strong evidence for decriminalisation.
She said: “Although previous drug strategies were well-meaning, sometimes they have been based on a criminal justice-type basis. What is very welcome is that now we have a new strategy based around public health that takes a public health and human rights approach and that is what we need.”
She added that the evidence for decriminalisation was strong across the world. A number of countries have gone down that route. Decriminalisation is not about filling our prisons with people who have problem drug-use because that further marginalises them and makes their recovery all the more difficult, she said.
Drugs deaths in Scotland at record levels
Scotland’s drug-related death toll has increased by 27% over the past year to reach a record high of 1187. This puts Scotland on a par in terms of the fatality rate per capita with the USA, where synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have devastated drug-using populations.
Earlier this week, the Scottish affairs committee at Westminster heard Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson give an impassioned appeal for radical reform, pleading with politicians to have the confidence and courage to decriminalise.
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