Time for a complete culture change, says Drug Deaths Taskforce’s final report

Scotland’s Drug Deaths Taskforce’s final report makes the call for a new system based on care, compassion and human rights.

‘Stigma kills people,’ the taskforce states, calling for a ‘major cultural change’ that will see an end to ‘stigma, discrimination and punishment’. The document comes days after a UK government white paper that once again sets out punitive measures for possession offences, such as the removal of people’s passports or driving licences. 

Drug Task force chair David Strang
Taskforce chair David Strang. ‘Addiction is not a crime and you cannot punish people out of addiction.’

Scotland has long been in the grips of a drug deaths crisis, with three people a day dying a drug-related death. ‘For far too long, this issue has not been given the priority it deserves’ the taskforce says, with key factors including concentrated social deprivation and high-risk drug use – 93 per cent of people suffering a drug-related death in in 2020 had more than one drug present in their body at the time. 

‘Many feel that the healthcare system often sees only the drug problem and does not recognise the person,’ the report states. ‘This perception dissuades many from accessing services.’ Transforming the system will need significant changes to ensure parity of ‘treatment, respect and regard’ with any other health condition, it says. This would require a comprehensive treatment and recovery system defined by quality and genuine choice, that would also need to put families and people with lived and living experience ‘at the heart’ of both developing and delivering services. 

Other necessary measures include making the treatment system easier to navigate, developing the world’s ‘most extensive’ naloxone network, and providing supervised consumption rooms – ‘not as a silver bullet, but as one evidence-based tool in a wider system of care’. A public health approach should be fully embedded at all stages, it adds, including throughout the criminal justice system. Decisive and accountable leadership is essential, it says, both locally and nationally. ‘Time and again, experts have explored the evidence and come to the same conclusions – what matters now is that action is taken.’ 

‘We know that factors such as poverty and inequality, trauma, mental ill health, alcohol and drug dependency are all closely linked,’ said taskforce chair David Strang. ‘Addiction is not a crime and you cannot punish people out of addiction. That has been the approach for years and it hasn’t worked. What is needed now is a comprehensive, consistent and person-centred system of care, which takes account of local need. A system which is appropriately funded to respond to the public health emergency it faces. Our report says what needs to be said and identifies what needs to change.’  

home secretary Priti Patel
‘We are cracking down on drug use with tougher consequences for so-called recreational drug users’ – home secretary Priti Patel

The recommendations are at odds with the proposed measures set out in the UK government’s Swift, certain, tough. New consequences for drug possession white paper released earlier the same week, although some have welcomed its partial focus on diversion  – albeit not with the financial penalties the document proposes. 

We are cracking down on drug use with tougher consequences for so-called recreational drug users who will face the consequences of their actions through sanctions including fines and conditions to attend rehabilitation courses, while drug offenders could have their passports and driving licences confiscated,’ said home secretary Priti Patel. The measures will be subject to a 12-week consultation process, while the government has also announced pilots of three intensive ‘problem-solving courts’, where people will see the same judge once a month and ‘undertake frequent, random drug testing where appropriate’. 

Changing lives: the Drug Deaths Taskforce final report at drugdeathstaskforce.scot

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