Scottish drug users diverted out of justice system to tackle growing crisis

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Drugs users will be diverted out of the criminal justice system as part of a new strategy to tackle the increasing number of people dying from taking illegal substances.

The Scottish Government said its new approach, entitled Rights, Respect and Recovery, would take a health approach to substance misuse, seeking to address problems such as employment and housing for those with drug and alcohol addictions.

Statistics published earlier this year showed there were 934 drug-related deaths registered in 2017, the largest number since records began and the highest rate of anywhere in the EU.

It led to calls from campaigners for a radical new approach looking at ideas such as decriminalisation, the introduction of drug consumption rooms and the prescribing of heroin to those with a clinical need. Announcing its new drugs strategy yesterday – the first in a decade – the Scottish Government said the effort would focus on education and early intervention for young people and those most at 
risk.

Drug users in the criminal justice system will be diverted out, where appropriate, and into treatment programmes.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Improving how we support people harmed by drugs and alcohol is one of the hardest and most complex problems we face.

“But I am clear that the ill-health and deaths caused by substance misuse are avoidable and we must do everything we can to prevent them. This means treating people and all their complex needs, not just the addiction, tackling the inequalities and traumas behind substance misuse, and intervening early to prevent people at risk.”

The Scottish Drugs Forum said better access to opioid replacement therapy had significantly reduced drugs deaths in Norway and should be a priority in Scotland.

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Scottish Labour welcomes the new government strategy and will take time to consider the detail but are calling on the government to declare a public health emergency on alcohol and drugs harm and use the full force of government to tackle it.”

Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “The strategy rightly sets an ambition to finally treat drug misuse as a health rather than criminal issue, but it doesn’t go far enough to meet that ambition.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the plan was “mostly a continuation of the failed strategy that has seen drug deaths double over the last ten years”.