Calls to declare public health emergency to tackle Scotland’s drugs crisis

Seizures of drugs such as heroin have doubled in a year. Picture: EN
Seizures of drugs such as heroin have doubled in a year. Picture: EN
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There are calls for the Scottish Government to declare a public health emergency to tackle the country’s drug crisis after it emerged the amount of heroin seized by police has more than doubled in a year.

Statistics published yesterday show Police Scotland seized 119kg (262lbs) of the drug in 2017/18 while the number of Ecstasy-type tablets stripped from dealers and drug users nearly trebled to more than 25,000.

Police also seized 264,000 Etizolam tablets, a psychoactive drug which is used to treat anxiety and insomnia but is not licensed in the UK.

Sometimes known as “street valium”, the drug is particularly dangerous when mixed with heroin or methadone and was implicated, or potentially contributed to, 299 deaths in Scotland in 2017.

The Scottish Government urged caution about drawing comparisons with seizure figures from previous years, but opponents called for urgent action.

Scotland currently has the highest rate of drug deaths in the EU, with opiates or opioids, such as heroin, morphine and methadone, implicated in nearly 90 per cent of cases.

The publication of yesterday’s seizure statistics led Labour to call on the government to declare a public health emergency similar to that established in British Columbia in 2016.

Introduced in response to a surge in the number of overdoses, the emergency gave health officials in the Canadian province more power to collect real-time information and take proactive action to help protect drug users.

Labour’s justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: “Addiction is ruining lives and our public services find themselves already stretched dealing with the fallout through crime, disorder and health impacts. Scotland has the largest number of overdose deaths per capita in western Europe, and more than double the number of England and Wales.

“This must be taken seriously. The government should treat the scale of the drug crisis in our communities as a public health emergency.”

Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton said the drugs crisis was being worsened by cuts to drug and alcohol services.

“Existing drug law enforcement strategies are failing as evidenced by the spiralling number of people dying and being hospitalised,” he said.

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said more than £784 million had been invested over the last ten years to tackle problem alcohol and drug use.

He said: “Our new alcohol and drugs strategy will strengthen existing measures to support those vulnerable to drug and alcohol harm, while applying the full force of the law to hit the dealers who cause misery that blights the lives of so many.”

Chief Superintendent John McKenzie, of Police Scotland, said: “We will continue to pro-actively target those who are responsible for the manufacturing, importation, sale and distribution of illicit substances. Enforcement alone will not solve the problem and we recognise the value of prevention and partnership engagement to tackle stigma and influence behaviour.”