Scottish and UK governments must work together to reduce drugs deaths and tackle criminal gangs that profit from misery and death – Kit Malthouse MP
They are at the root of untold misery for individuals, families and communities. They fuel crime and violence. And they ruin lives on a truly tragic scale. But we must also acknowledge that Scotland has been hit particularly hard.
I was shocked and saddened by the most recent statistics on drug-related deaths in Scotland. The numbers are horrific. Last year, 1,339 people lost their lives to this poison, and we must always remember that behind the figures are real people whose lives are cut short, leaving their loved ones shattered.
The number of drug deaths in Scotland has more than doubled since 2011. Over 57,000 people are estimated to have so-called “problematic” drug use. And while it would be easy to think this issue is localised to certain high-density areas, tragically this toxic issue is a blight across this beautiful nation. From Dumfries to Dundee, Stirling to South Lanarkshire, lives cut short, families torn apart.
It is vital we get to grips with this problem. Enough is enough. As the UK government minister for combating drugs, I am absolutely clear that we will use every lever at our disposal to turn the tide. I am equally clear that the effort to combat drug misuse is one that must be pursued with tenacity and precision across the whole of the United Kingdom.
In Scotland, many elements of the response are devolved to the Scottish government, such as policing, healthcare and education, but when it comes to dealing with this problem, we must work together.
We need to be united in our attempts to bear down on drug misuse. The only people who benefit from a divisive and inconsistent approach are the criminals intent on continuing to line their pockets from the illegal drugs trade.
We have made good progress since the drugs summit I chaired in Glasgow in February 2020, but we must do more. On Tuesday, I appeared at a joint convening of the Scottish Parliament’s criminal justice, health, social care & sport and social justice & social security committees to discuss drugs misuse. One topic that comes up frequently in this debate is the potential introduction of drug-consumption rooms. I have genuine concerns about such facilities.
They are being portrayed as a silver bullet for what is a complex, deep-rooted issue. Not only are they a blunt instrument, with mixed evidence to show their effects, but there are serious perils which cannot be ignored.
For example, there are real risks drug-consumption rooms may increase crime and drug supply in the local area. Taking drugs such as heroin and cocaine is against the law. And what if someone had an overdose whilst using a drug-consumption room? Would a member of staff be liable for that death?
Put simply, we are not prepared to condone drug-taking. These illicit substances are poisons which destroy lives and wreck communities. I know we can achieve much more by doubling down on assertive health intervention coupled with strong law enforcement.
This is the approach we are taking in the hardest-hit areas of England and Wales through Project Adder. We have invested a total of nearly £60 million in the programme and it is already producing results.
Over 600 organised crime groups have been disrupted and more than 13,000 people supported by drug-treatment interventions. Nothing would make me happier than if the Scottish government were to agree to an Adder project in Scotland. We have already suggested this and we want to work alongside them to save lives, prevent crime and clamp down on drugs. We plan to invest more in Adder projects as part of our new ten-year strategy to address illicit drug use.
We must focus our efforts on three key priorities: breaking drug supply chains; delivering a world-class treatment and recovery system; and achieving a generational shift in the demand for drugs. But we must be smart about it. There are clear benefits we can all draw from working together, and we must attack the drug supply chain at every stage.
That includes continuing to relentlessly confront the menace posed by so-called ‘county lines’ drug-dealing gangs. Just over two years ago, we launched a concerted programme to dismantle the county lines supply model. Policing partners across England and Wales joined forces to stamp down on this activity and the results have been impressive: 1,500 deal lines closed, over 7,400 arrests made and more than 4,000 vulnerable adults and children safeguarded. We have to make it harder to buy and sell drugs. Only this makes our streets safer and protects the public.
These gangs pay no heed to geography or force boundaries. In fact, their supply model is centred on transporting illegal drugs from one area to another. So it is crucial that police across the UK work together to confront this threat.
It’s perplexing to see that the SNP government has been cutting police numbers just as we are increasing them across England and Wales, because tough law enforcement is a key pillar of putting the squeeze on drug supply lines. Nevertheless, by working together, the National Crime Agency and Police Scotland can disrupt organised crime groups, seize their profits and assets, and shut down their operations.
The challenge of confronting the harm and degradation caused by drugs in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, is a complex and significant one which cannot be solved by putting a sticking plaster over the fundamental issue. We must remain determined to deliver real and lasting change, not implicitly condone the taking of illegal and harmful substances.
We will throw everything we have at the criminal gangs that profit from the harm and tragedy they cause. Home nations must stand together if we are to save lives and rescue the young from the pernicious grip of drugs.
Conservative MP Kit Malthouse is UK policing and crime minister
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