Scotland is in the midst of a drug crisis that just keeps getting worse. We have the highest number of drug-related deaths in all of Europe, a number which keeps rising, having tripled in the last decade. In response to this, the Scottish Government has proposed introducing warnings for Class A drug users caught in possession of these substances. And while a new approach to the national drug problem is necessary, a radically different path would probably prove more successful.
For some context, Class A drugs include cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD and a number of other dangerous substances that are the main cause of all the drug-related deaths we’re seeing in Scotland. Codeine, ketamine and cannabis are all in Class B, and anabolic steroids, for example, are included under Class C. Both Classes B and C are already included under a policy whereby warnings are issued if police catch you with any of these drugs. However, the new proposal would introduce the same measures for Class A drugs.
Simply put, I don’t think this is the best way for the government to tackle the drug crisis. We all know that the War on Drugs has failed – embarrassingly so. But this isn’t the solution. This isn’t some miracle godsend that’s going to solve all Scotland’s drug problems. In fact, I’m not even sure of how much of an impact this will truly make.
Don’t get me wrong – the decriminalisation of drugs is a good thing. But what will a slap on the wrist really do? Will it dissuade people from using drugs? Will it stop drug addictions? No. All this policy will do is tell people that drugs like cocaine are on the same level as drugs like marijuana, which they most definitely aren’t.
The government needs to clarify how exactly this policy will improve the drug situation in Scotland. Will they be keeping an eye on those caught with Class A drugs? There has to be something. Something other than a warning if we really want to see an end to this crisis.
Perhaps Scotland should look to countries that have been successful in dealing with their own drug crises. Portugal, for example, has been a notable success that most countries in the world could learn from. In 2001, they became the first country to decriminalise the possession of all drugs, and this policy has been an astounding success.
Personal drug use and possession in Portugal is no longer a criminal offense. Rather, it is – rightly – considered to be a health issue. Those caught with drugs aren’t arrested and this isn’t put on their permanent record. Instead, they are put in front of a panel of specialists that will assess the situation. They are offered support – non-judgemental support – to recover from their addiction.
This change has reduced the stigma that surrounds drug use and enabled many more people to seek out help.
So what can Scotland learn from this? It seems like the government is starting to look at decriminalisation as a way to escape the current drug crisis, which is a good start. But issuing drug users with a warning isn’t going to be some magical fix. There needs to be a more developed and better-explained system in place that keeps a watchful eye on these people, or at least gets them help.
But Scotland can’t just treat the symptoms of the drug crisis – it has to look deeper and tackle the root causes of this situation. There has to be a reason why so many people are using drugs. And why the situation just keeps getting worse.
Drugs began to spread like wildfire in Portugal following the fall of Salazar’s dictatorship. When international trade reopened, drugs flooded the country. And let’s be real: the 80s were a crazy time. However, as the years went by and as the economy grew, the drug problem disappeared.
But what is the cause of the drug crisis in Scotland? Knowing the answer to this question is the key to improving the current situation. If the government targets the root causes of drug addictions in Scotland, any other policies they introduce will be the cherry on top. So, I challenge them. I challenge them to look beyond the surface and actually do something about the problem rather than just treating the symptoms.
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