The high number of drug deaths in Scotland and the UK Government’s opposition to treating drugs as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one, demonstrates why Scotland should be able to make its own policy decisions, writes Angus Robertson.
Scotland’s drug problem is serious, with more people dying from drug-related deaths than alcohol-specific deaths, topping the international league table. There are complex reasons for the particular situation in Scotland, including users consuming a lethal cocktail of drugs, often combining opiates such as heroin and methadone with benzodiazepines.
We also have an ageing population of drug addicts in Scotland who have been using heroin for decades. These, mostly men, are now also taking new street pills, which often contain etizolam.
This is well known and understood because a full inquiry has been conducted by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee chaired by the talented Perth MP Pete Wishart. It has collected comprehensive evidence of the situation in Scotland and how other countries like Portugal have dealt with similar problems.
The Scottish Government has made the issue a top priority. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already raised the issue with Boris Johnson, because drugs policy is reserved to Westminster. However, the UK Government has time and again said it is opposed to changing the law on decriminalising drugs and treating it as a public health issue.
Now the Scottish Tories say they favour “radical” action with an “evidenced-based” approach, which is welcome but late given the evidence has already been collected and the Scottish Government has being trying to get the Tories at Westminster to act for some time.
Unfortunately the UK Government has refused repeated invitations to take part in a planned summit on drugs deaths organised by the Scottish Government. A sad reminder why we should be able to get on with all policy decisions in Scotland.