Scotland’s drug death crisis: I can sense police’s shame and frustration – Kenny MacAskill

Last Saturday I chaired a forum at the International Law Enforcement and Public Health Conference in Edinburgh. Senior police from Scotland and south of the Border were there, along with representatives from Portugal and Canada who’ve both embarked on radical changes in drug policy.

A picture of Michele Kearney who died aged 16 of a drug overdose is displayed by campaigners in Glasgow to mark International Overdose Awareness Day (Picture: John Devlin)

I sensed that both the senior Scottish officer and his English equivalent were shamed and frustrated at what they could say and also what they could do.

Neither the chief of police from Porto nor the advisor to the Canadian police chiefs could point to a perfect policy or any promised land. Difficulties and challenges remained.

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However, listening to the Portuguese chief and knowing the situation in Scotland was shaming. They’ve twice the population of Scotland but a mere fraction of the drug deaths.

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Why Scotland can ill afford to ignore Portugal’s ground-breaking war on drugs

Those who die may be challenged and challenging people but they have rights and an intrinsic value as human beings. No one’s born seeking to die in misery from narcotics.

There’s no absolute remedy but Portugal’s partial decriminalisation is a step in the right direction. Issues remain as open drug-taking there has become a problem.

It seems that it’s only now that they’re getting around to the idea of having drug consumption rooms (DCRs). They’re the subject of debate here but are essential to save lives and provide for public reassurance.

But, as the Portuguese police chief explained, DCRs should be the start not the end of the journey. On their own they’re insufficient and moving from a law enforcement to public health strategy for drugs is essential.