Problem drug use in Scotland Contents


The rise in drug deaths in Scotland has been relentless, reaching an all-time high of 1,187 deaths last year. This tragic increase over the last two decades shows that a new approach is needed to tackle problem drug use. The UK Government must declare a public health emergency and be open to taking radical steps to implement innovative evidence-based solutions if we are to stand a chance of halting Scotland’s spiralling drug crisis.

The UK Government currently treats drugs as a criminal justice matter. However, the evidence we have heard overwhelmingly shows that the current approach is counter-productive. We therefore recommend that the UK Government adopts a public health approach to drugs, and transfers lead responsibility for drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department for Health and Social Care. We also recommend, in line with this approach, that there should be full protection for people with problem drug use in key equality legislation.

There have been calls to introduce safe drug consumption facilities as part of the immediate solution to Scotland’s drug crisis. Our evidence suggests that these facilities, where people can take drugs in safe and supervised conditions, are proven to reduce overdoses, drug deaths, blood-borne virus infection rates, and public injecting, and witnesses told us that the case for such a facility in Glasgow is amongst the most compelling in Europe. We are therefore disappointed that the Home Office has blocked the proposal despite the overwhelming evidence that they work and has not made the legal changes necessary to allow such a facility to be opened. We therefore recommend that the UK Government brings forward the legislation necessary to allow for the lawful establishment of a pilot safe drug consumption facility in Scotland. If the UK Government is unwilling to do this, we argue that it should devolve the necessary powers to allow the Scottish Parliament to do so.

However, safe consumption facilities and the adoption of a public health approach will not address all the problems caused by the criminalisation of drugs. Going further would require decriminalising drugs. Drawing on international case studies and examples of localised decriminalisation schemes in the UK, we outline clear evidence that decriminalisation is a pragmatic response to problem drug use, and an effective way of reducing stigma and encouraging people into treatment. As such, we recommend that the UK Government commits to decriminalising the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Throughout our inquiry we heard that the UK Government routinely ignores the evidence on what would be the most effective approach to reducing problem drug use. We call on the UK Government to take an evidence-based approach to drugs policy and accept expert advice.

Finally, Scotland’s drug crisis is not just the responsibility of the UK Government. The Scottish Government is responsible for health delivery, and there is undoubtedly more it could do within its existing powers to address problem drug use. We believe the Scottish Government should improve its response to problem drug use in areas that are already devolved, and that funding for drug-related health services in Scotland must be protected.

Published: 4 November 2019