It is probable that some people in any society will always fall prey to drugs, but it is inescapable that Scotland’s problems are vastly greater than any other country in Europe. In 2019, the rate of 318 deaths per million people was 21 times more than the average figure for the European Union, 15 per million. And Scotland’s figures have continued to rise, hitting 1,339 deaths last year.
That so many people lose their lives after seeking some kind of solace in these deadly, life-sapping chemicals means swift action simply must be taken.
The Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce has now delivered its recommendations for what form that action should take.
One of the most controversial is that supervised drug-consumption rooms should be created. “Evidence shows they… can save lives when used in conjunction with other harm-reduction and treatment measures,” the report says.
While the taskforce felt these could be set up under existing legislation, they urged the UK Government to consider changes to help the process.
With the directness of a former chief constable, taskforce chair David Strang said their report “calls out the disgrace of Scotland’s drug-related death statistics”.
"For far too long, people who use drugs and their families have suffered the effects of discrimination and stigma in society, in the media and in services. They have been demonised, criminalised and ignored,” he said. “...Like all members of society, people who use drugs should be recognised as individuals with the same rights as everyone else. Fear, judgment, punishment and shame must be replaced by compassion, connection and communication.”
For a government to provide facilities where people can take illegal substances seems contradictory. However, when lives are at stake, any government must look to its first duty – to protect its citizens – and act accordingly. So Westminster should allow Scotland to set up these facilities, if only on a trial basis.
But no one in Scotland should think this report is the final word. The resignation of the taskforce’s previous chair and deputy chair last year over ministers’ insistence they report more quickly is a sign there is more to say. And this matter will only be truly resolved when Scotland’s drug-death rate falls as low as it possibly can.