UK government rejects recommendations to tackle drug misuse in Scotland

The government rejected calls to declare a public health emergency over drug misuse, and to transfer responsibility for drugs policy to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Legal and illegal drugs

The UK government has rejected several recommendations put forward by the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC), which had said that “a new approach” was needed to tackle problem drug use.

The government rejected the SAC’s calls to declare a public health emergency over drug misuse, and to transfer lead responsibility for drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care. The latter was also a recommendation made by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee in October 2019.

The UK government also said it has no plans to decriminalise drug possession. In its report 
Problem drug use in Scotland
, published in November 2019, the SAC had recommended decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Responding to a recommendation that the UK government “brings forward the legislation necessary to allow for the lawful establishment of a pilot safe consumption facility in Scotland”, the UK government said that primary legislation would be required “to provide complete security to those operating DCRs [drug consumption rooms], which would take a great deal of time to develop and implement”.

However, the UK government did agree in principle with the SAC’s call for the underlying causes of drug misuse — including social inequality — to be acknowledged in approaches to the problem, and for the governments to work together in a cross-departmental approach that engages with health services and third-sector organisations. 

In its response the UK government said it was “already taking action to tackle problem drug use and our approach continues to be a balanced one which is anchored in: education to reduce demand; tough and intelligent enforcement to restrict supply; evidence-based treatment to aid recovery; and co-ordinated global action”.

However, it acknowledged that “there is more that we can and should do”, noting that, following the publication of Dame Carol Black’s Review of Drugs, work was now under way to do more to tackle supply. Dame Carol has, it added, “been commissioned to undertake a review of prevention, treatment and recovery in order to inform further action in those areas”.

Catriona Matheson — chair of Scotland’s Drug Deaths Taskforce, but speaking in a personal capacity, and not for the Taskforce — told The Pharmaceutical Journal that she was “disappointed in the rejection of what was an evidence-based and widely consultative report and recommendations.

“The SAC report looked at international evidence, consulted with people in Scotland and prepared a measured, sensible and pragmatic set of recommendations to address the very real problems we face. The UK government is out of touch in their continued approach to address drugs from a criminal justice angle. The data demonstrates this is not working.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ September 2020, Vol 305, No 7941;305(7941):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208344

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