MPs on the Scottish affairs committee at Westminster will today begin an inquiry into drug abuse in Scotland, where the rate of substance-related deaths is higher than anywhere in western Europe.
Drug workers in the North-east said a pilot in Aberdeenshire – during which drug users were given concessionary travel – dramatically increased attendance at healthcare appointments and should be rolled out across the country.
The number of drug fatalities in Scotland is expected to reach the 1,000 mark this year, with the rate of death two-and-a-half times that of the UK as a whole and 50 times that of Portugal, which decriminalised possession and consumption in 2001.
Free bus travel in Scotland is currently provided for those with disabilities and people with long-term mental health problems.
Wayne Gault, of the Aberdeenshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership, said that during a 2015 pilot scheme, there was a three-fold reduction in the number of people failing to attend clinic appointments.
He said: “Addiction, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, is first and foremost a healthcare condition. It’s a condition like any other healthcare condition, and reasonable people would expect the state to do whatever it can to support people to recover.
“Even the use of the language ‘drug addicts’ implies some sort of stigmatising attitude about worthiness or deservedness. In actual fact, if people are keen to engage with services, keen to recover from their affliction, then why wouldn’t we do everything we can to support them, especially if it benefits the taxpayer in the long run.”
In a series of submissions to the Scottish affairs committee published at the weekend, charities and drug treatment services called for drug legislation to be devolved to Holyrood to tackle the growing crisis. They called for radical interventions, including decriminalisation, and a move away from what they call Westminster’s “just say no” message.
Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative public health spokeswoman, said: “The SNP has wholly failed to tackle Scotland’s worrying track record on drug addiction.
“Ensuring addicts can get to appointments is important but it is far more important that they are given the means to break their habit. With Scotland’s drug deaths due to be over 1,000 this year, the SNP has to make far greater effort to tackle this problem.”