Unfair attack masks drugs commission deficit

Fergus Ewing (Opinion, 12 December) has written a bullying, personal attack on me for, in his words, having written a "cynical," "snide" and "misinformed" commentary on the setting up of the Drugs Strategy Delivery Commission.

The community safety minister has set up the commission to advise on the implementation of Scotland's drug strategy, to ask difficult questions and to criticise implementation of the strategy where criticism is due. Plainly, the minister wishes to have not only the commission members hand-picked but the difficult questions posed as well.

What seems to have offended Mr Ewing is my observation that the 19-strong advisory committee is made up of five methadone-prescribing doctors, one policeman, one academic, nobody from children's services and nobody from education. Whether Mr Ewing admits it or not that is a worrying imbalance in a commission that, in his words, has a "vital role" to play in tackling Scotland's drug problem.

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The price of having raised the questions I posed in my own Platform piece for the Scotsman is that I will continue to be cold-shouldered by the minister and his civil servants. I accept that because I believe academia is an honourable profession in which there is a responsibility to raise issues of public concern even in the face of such ministerial intimidation.

I will continue to raise such questions because I firmly believe we need a thriving public debate on how we are tackling this problem if we are to reduce the scale of a drug problem in Scotland that is without equal in Europe.

I have written in the past that with 22,000 addicts on methadone, Scotland is too dependent on the drug. It is wrong of Mr Ewing to suggest this is the equivalent of me deprecating the advice and expertise of doctors. Like him, I value the expertise of our medical colleagues but a commission responsible for advice in all areas of the implementation of our drug strategy should have a balanced membership reflecting the complex nature of the problem it is addressing.

The strategy delivery commission could usefully hold its meetings in public, as happens with many of the advisory bodies in England, including the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Mr Ewing has been silent on that issue, I suspect because he does not share that view. I rather regret that because just as Scotland pays an enormous price financially, and in lives lost, for its drugs problem, so too should it own the policy solutions that are being proffered as a response to that problem.

I have offended Mr Ewing because I suspect mine is a discordant voice within the consensus he has chaperoned in with the Road to Recovery drug strategy. But a consensus that leaves fundamental questions unanswered and unasked is no consensus at all.


Professor of Drug Misuse Research

University of Glasgow