Could decriminalisation solve Scotland’s drug problem?

by | Aug 22, 2023 | Health

By James CookScotland editorScotland has the highest drugs death rate in Europe, with narcotics claiming more than 100 lives on average every month.The Scottish government is proposing to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use to “help and support people rather than criminalise and stigmatise them”.But the UK government, which controls drugs policy, has rejected the plan as dangerous and says it has no intention of giving the Scottish Parliament the power to enact the new policy.So what is decriminalisation – and would it work?In setting out their proposals, Scottish National Party (SNP) ministers cited Portugal, which relaxed its drug laws in 2001, as a potential model.Despite having almost double the population of Scotland – 10.3 million compared with 5.5 million – Portugal has far fewer drug deaths. There were just 74 in 2021 compared with 1,330 in Scotland, where the figures for 2022 are set to be published on Tuesday.The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) makes comparisons using drug deaths of people aged 15-64 years-old. On that measure, National Records of Scotland says Scotland had 327 deaths per million people in 2020, the most recent year for which the breakdown is available, while the EMCDDA says Portugal had nine deaths per million.This video can not be playedTo play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.Statisticians say there are some methodological differences between the two nations but the figures are broadly comparable.Portugal’s architect of decriminalisation, João Goulão, argues that adopting a similar policy in Scotland could save lives.”We are dealing with a health condition, with a disease, and we do not criminalise other diseases,” he tells BBC News.We meet Dr Goulão in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, at the General Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies, where he oversees national drugs policy.Globally, many advocates of drug liberalisation praise the framework which the former GP helped to design.In Portugal, drug trafficking and dealing remain criminal offences. Possession of up to 10 days’ supply for personal use of any drug, including heroin and cocaine, is not criminal – but it is not legal either and is dealt with as an administrative matter.If a user is detained, and if there is no evidence that they are supplying narcotics, the police can confiscate their drugs and refer them to a Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Use. This is a panel usually made up of a legal expert, a health professional and a social worker.Getty ImagesThere is one commission for each of the country’s 18 districts. Overseen by Portugal’s health, rather than justice, ministry, they try to establish if a drug user is an occasional recreational consumer or someone struggling with addiction.The panels have a variety of options available to them, including referring the user for treatment or counselling; levying fines for repeat appearances; imposing sanctions such as revoking a driving licence, a gun licence, or the right to practise in a licensed profession; and applying restrictions on visiting certain places or associating with certain people.However, in around four out of five cases, after a discussion with the user about their drug use, no action is taken.In the last year for which figures are available, nine out of ten participants were male and 45% were aged between 16 and 24.The number of people appearing before the commissions rose from 4,850 in 2002 to 11,995 in 2017 before falling back to 6,628 in 2021.The head of the commissions, Nuno Capaz, says that reflects the changing rate at which police referred users, rather than a shift in drug use.Dr Goulão says there have been challenges with funding and recruitment of staff in recent years which have made the job of the panels more difficult, but he insists Portugal is in a much better place than it was before decriminalisation.Then, he says, the nation was in the grip of heroin and HIV epidemics, with drugs deaths running at around 350 per year.At one point, one per cent of the …

Article Attribution | Read More at Article Source

Share This