Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP today warned that the Scottish Government’s new drug and alcohol strategy risked “another decade of failure” and laid out the party’s 10-point plan to meet the ambition to treat drug misuse as a health rather than a criminal issue.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat plan, setting out additional actions the strategy needs to succeed, comes days after the party revealed that 200 babies a year are born dependent on substances, caused by drugs passing from the mother to the foetus during pregnancy.
The 10-point plan calls for:
- A ministerial commitment to protect the budgets of alcohol and drug partnerships for the duration of the strategy, after the Scottish Government implemented a 20% cut to services in 2016/17;
- A ministerial commitment to cease sending people caught in possession of drugs for their own personal use to prison, as happens hundreds of times a year, and instead send them for treatment and education;
- An explanation of why drug treatment and testing orders, which the strategy says “can have a positive impact on both drug use and offending”, were only used 31 times in response to 4,400 convictions for possession in 2016/17;
- Local authorities to make licensing decisions based on venues’ efforts to keep their customers safe, instead of punishing them for incidents on their premises;
- The Scottish Government to back a regulated cannabis market, taking it out of the hands of criminals and tackling trends including increased potency which the strategy describes as “concerning”;
- The Scottish Government to establish proposals for a Scotland-wide network for the provision of heroin-assisted treatment, expanding on preliminary plans for a site in Glasgow;
- Drug-testing to be deployed at localities where there is a need, allowing at risk users to find out what is in a substance and offer advice on harm reduction.
- Adverse childhood experiences to be routinely recorded as recommended by Scottish Government advisor Sir Harry Burns;
- Additional action to address neonatal abstinence syndrome through support for expectant mothers;
- The minimum unit price of alcohol to be raised to 60p to meet the policy’s original ambition and account for inflation in the years that the policy’s implementation was delayed;
Mr Cole-Hamilton commented:
“The failure of last strategy, cooked up as part of a budget deal between the SNP and Conservatives, can be measured in human lives. It has contributed to the crisis that has seen a 50% increase in drug-related hospitalisations and deaths reaching an all-time high.
“The new strategy rightly sets an ambition to finally treat drug misuse as a health rather than criminal issue, but it doesn’t go far enough to meet that ambition.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats demand better and have today set out ten additional actions that are required. Without these, the Scottish Government risks another decade of failure.
“For example, we need a crystal-clear commitment to stop sending people caught in possession of drugs for their own personal use to prison. It makes sense to send them for treatment and education instead of somewhere like HMP Addiewell where one study found half of those released tested positive for drugs.
“We also need to record adverse childhood experiences so supported can be targeted towards these young people who, as a result of going through this, can be up to 11 times more likely to have used crack cocaine or heroin.
“Scotland’s record on drugs and alcohol is shameful. It is time to learn from the evidence of what works elsewhere around the world and support people misusing drugs, instead of penalising and criminalising them.”