Devolve drugs powers to Holyrood to save lives, MPs urged

Devolving drugs legislation to Holyrood would allow Scotland to tackle a rapidly developing set of challenges which has led to the highest rate of substance-related deaths in western Europe, it has been claimed.

The Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster will this week begin hearing evidence as part of its inquiry into problem drug use, with the rate of deaths in Scotland now two-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK.

In a series of submissions from charities and drug treatment services, MPs have been warned that criminal networks are using the dark web and online games to sell drugs to young people. It is also claimed that concerns over the availability of anxiety medication following Brexit has led young people to search for the drugs on the dark web.

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And while drug treatment services are currently set up to deal with opioids such as heroin and methadone, there is growing concern over the use of psychostimulants such as MDMA, ketamine and cocaine, with Scotland said to have the second highest prevalence rate for cocaine use in the world.

They call for radical interventions, including decriminalisation, and a move away from what they call Westminster’s “just say no” message.

The Edinburgh-based drugs charity Crew 2000 is among those calling for decriminalisation, following a model pioneered in Portugal.

It said: “Prohibition under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act creates stigma, shame and fear of arrest, all of which hinder people’s ability to access help at the right time.”

Asked about the constraints placed on Scotland by Westminster drugs laws, the Angus Alcohol Drug Partnership and Perth & Kinross Drug Partnership said: “The constraints of UK-wide drugs legislation results in Scotland being less able to react dynamically to emerging threats and potential solutions that may be a particular priority to the population in Scotland.”

It added: “The UK government’s policy tends to focus on prevention and the ‘just say no’ message which has no impact on existing heroin users and younger people who are exposed to drug culture...”

Last month, health experts expressed frustration that the Home Office has rejected plans for a safer drug consumption facility in Glasgow, despite support from the local council, health board and Scottish Government.