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Drug misuse is a symptom of poverty, inequality, and hopelessness

Rarely has a policy failed quite so completely as “Just Say No” to drugs. It presents a false binary choice that ignores the complexities of substance misuse and, as I said in Westminster recently, it only serves to caricature vulnerable people as weak.

A notable exception to this was a public-health ad from 2000. It began with a young guy being offered drugs. “What, heroin?”, he asks. “Aye, smack, you’re only smoking it”, replies his pal. The screen splits and we see the consequences of yes and no play out. The young lad who said “yes” sells his PlayStation to fund his drug habit, steals money from his dad’s coat, and suffers the pain of withdrawal. On the other side of the screen, the lad who said “no” continues to enjoy teenage life.

Between 2009 and 2019, there were 8,295 drug-related deaths in Scotland, 525 of those were in Fife. That compares to 7,842 people who have died from Covid across the country, 387 in Fife. But while Covid is treated with the utmost seriousness that the pandemic demands, we’ve been much slower to act on the drugs crisis.

Just think, if it was yuppies in Glasgow Kelvin that were impacted, would the Scottish Government have let that crisis fester?

Of course, it is the UK government that refuses to entertain safe consumption rooms, decriminalisation, or frankly any evidence-based public health approach to drugs. And it is the UK government that dismisses Scottish requests that powers be devolved to Holyrood so we can chart a different path.

But the blame cannot be placed solely at Westminster’s door. Decisions from the Scottish Government not to reinstate a higher 50% rate of income tax may have won votes for the SNP in Scotland’s wealthiest constituencies, but it has deprived vital services in our communities of essential funding. So, too, has the decision to persevere with council tax, despite commitments to replace it with a fairer local tax. And local services have been squeezed by the Scottish Government’s fetishization with ring-fencing local funding, restricting the agility of councils to develop local solutions to drug misuse.

Drug misuse is a symptom of poverty, inequality, and hopelessness. Policies that keep wealth concentrated in already affluent parts of Scotland perpetuate, rather than solve, this deadly crisis.

First published in the Fife Free Press

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