Scotland, Demand Change

I’m not accustomed to anger. The life of campaigning for drug law reform brings its frustrations of course. The seemingly endless moralising and ignoring of evidence means change is painfully slow, but as fellow campaigners will agree, we must find patience and optimism, and keep going. And anger doesn’t help. Today however I read a phrase that gripped me in an instant fury. I let out a shout, a primal reaction from which I still feel no embarrassment. No one I know will have ever heard me raise my voice in anger, because I just don’t do that. So, what do you wonder has caused this conniption?

The news from Scotland is dire. The death rate from drugs there is now 160.4 per million population making it the highest rate of drug deaths in Europe. 867 deaths in 2016, that’s a horrifying number of grieving families.

We expect the usual round of blame and shame from the Party spokespeople. We are accustomed to the political weaponising of the issue, the never-ending Drug War rhetoric, but the reaction to these recent figures from Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Miles Briggs revealed the darkest contempt for drug users;

“For decades now we’ve had a drugs policy that simply parks people on methadone programmes, offering them zero hope of ever beating addiction completely.”

The phrase ‘parked on methadone’ was first used by Conservatives at the start of the coalition in 2011 to criticise Labour policy of the preceding years. It was championed by the likes of Ian Duncan Smith as part of the ideological shift towards abstinence-based recovery. That, combined with the privatising of drug treatment services and brutal accompanying cuts have led to the record increases in deaths seen each year for the last half decade. The phrase ‘parked’ is what announced this path. And this is why I have today felt so angry.

How could it be clearer that the philosophy which has overseen the carnage of recent years has been a disaster? Reiterating the same phrase despite the growing numbers of grieving families is obscene. Let me make one thing perfectly clear to you Mr Briggs, it is not for politicians to decide what treatment is best for any problematic drug user. The only person who should be deciding how long a person should be on methadone for is the individual who needs it, following the advice of actual experts like her personal drug worker and her doctor.

The decision to still pursue this issue of ‘parking’ has now changed the nature of this choice of words. For me it now ranks alongside ‘total war’, or ‘final solution’ in its emotive power. The fact that Westminster drug policy is killing Scottish citizens cannot be argued with. The trail is clear; cause and effect unarguable. Criticism of the Scottish response to this crisis is completely bewildering, for drug policy is not devolved.

Has the time come to discuss a devolved drug policy? However change comes it is clearly urgent and needs to be drastic. So many of the SNP understand the issues of drug policy well. Ronnie Cowan is a particular champion of reform, and understands how lives can be saved and communities made safer. There are of course reform minded politicians in every party, who would agree that a change of direction is needed now. What Scotland needs is more innovation like the decision to have a Safe Injection facility in Glasgow, but this does not go far enough. Across the UK we need a drug policy that follows evidence to save lives. Demand it, because I doubt I’m the only one angry today.

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