‘We would end up with a problem of a similar scale to the one that we have with alcohol’

“It’s extraordinarily simplistic for the Global Commission to advocate that decriminalising drugs will lead to reduced addiction rates and less crime.  The idea that drug abuse is a victimless crime is also hugely over-simplifying things.

In Scotland there is a huge problem with drug addiction and this has become dramatically worse over recent decades. Such is the scale of the problem now that we have a detection rate of just 1 per cent of all the heroin that’s consumed in Scotland.

That’s a figure we should be hugely discomforted by and it gives us an idea of the scale of the problem we’re facing. The Global Commission’s recommendations seem to have given up on the idea of getting addicts off drugs and seem to be accepting it’s a problem that’s here to stay.

As things stand, we are already leaving too many addicts for too long on methadone, for example. We need to have a policy of supporting people to move from increased stability to abstinence. Legalising drugs would open the floodgates to more drugs problems and would be a catastrophe for the country.

There are areas in Scotland where drug use is already rife, such as some estates in the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. If drugs were no longer illegal this would spread rapidly and get out of all control very quickly, we would end up with a drug problem that’s of a similar scale to the one we currently have with alcohol.

The policy advocated by the Global Commission would also lead to higher levels of crime and would corrupt the economy, and there would be huge economic power left with these businesses selling drugs. The power of the drugs gangs would remain in place, but they would now be legitimate in the eyes of the law and would be more likely to diversify into other areas of crime.

We would also see some companies that are currently legitimate corrupted by their involvement in the drugs trade. This has already happened in Columbia, where the gangs have become more powerful and have influence over more parts of society.

Drug dealers and organised crime would all of a sudden have so much more influence and this would be hugely damaging to Scottish society as a whole. We have to look at how to solve the problems with drugs in a much more measured way and that means having joined up strategies in place to treat addicts, as well as an effective criminal justice system.

One of the biggest problems of all though is that we have become too accustomed to having a drug problem in Scotland over the past 20 years and have allowed the problem to get worse and worse. The last thing we want is any sort of knee-jerk reaction or a rushed decision that has come up with all the wrong sorts of ideas. Prevention of drug addiction through education and early intervention have got to be at the heart of any anti-drugs strategy.

But we need to be very clear that a 1 per cent detection rate for all the heroin use in Scotland is just not acceptable and needs to be dramatically improved.  The approach put forward by the Global Commission is certainly not the route to go down, as it would just escalate our problems with crime and addiction.

If we imagine just how bad things have become in Scotland with drug addiction and crime, we should stop to think how much worse they could be if these proposals to decriminalise drugs are introduced.  The crisis could get much worse unless we have a sensible approach that gets to the heart of the problem”.

lNeil McKeganey is a professor of drug misuse research at the University of Glasgow

Source: Scotsman.com 2nd June 2011

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