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Rise in drug deaths sparks Westminster investigation

Illegal substances factored in the deaths of almost 1000 people in Scotland last year.

Heroin: Opiates were involved in 89% of deaths (file pic).
Heroin: Opiates were involved in 89% of deaths (file pic). Fotolia

Fresh approaches to prevent deaths from illegal drug use are to be considered by MPs.

Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee will tackle the issue after figures showed illicit substances were contributory factors in the deaths of almost 1000 people in Scotland in 2017/18.

Describing illegal drug use as "one of the biggest social issues we are currently confronting here in Scotland", committee chair Pete Wishart said that the group of MPs would seek evidence from all sides of the debate and look at drug laws.

Speaking at Crew 2000 in Edinburgh, a facility offering information and support about drug use, Mr Wishart said: "We all know that substance abuse can devastate the lives of individuals, families and communities."

Detailing the drug problems facing Scotland, he explained: "In 1997 there were 224 drug-related deaths, in 2017 that number has gone up to 934."

He added that the committee would predominantly examine the use of opioid-based drugs such as heroin, fentanyl and morphine, which were involved in 89% of recorded deaths, but also hear evidence about other recreational drug use as well as links between substance abuse and poverty.

Commenting on the record levels of deaths caused by illegal drugs, Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard added: "Most of them shouldn't die. I think that if this was any other area of social policy there would be outrage."

'This will be about looking at an issue which has blighted those two generations in Scotland, costing lives and blighting families, and looking for a way that we can recommend some positive action'
Christine Jardine MP

Mr Sheppard expressed dismay that drug laws have not been reviewed for almost half a century and said: "The nature of drug abuse we have in society today is incredibly different to what it would have been characterised as in 1971.

"Perhaps our inquiry, the evidence we take and the report that we make may encourage the Home Office and others into looking at the legislation again."

Mr Sheppard also raised the issue of drugs legislation not being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, which meant the Home Office were able to block attempts to introduce a drug consumption room in Glasgow in 2017.

"This is one of these areas where the legislative framework is entirely reserved to Westminster in terms of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and yet the consequences of the legislation are almost wholly the responsibility of the Scottish Government in terms of the health and social care system and the police and criminal justice system," he said.

Pointing out that the current laws span multiple generations of her family, Christine Jardine MP said: "I don't think we can be in any doubt now that the war on drugs has failed.

"This will be about looking at an issue which has blighted those two generations in Scotland, costing lives and blighting families, and looking for a way that we can recommend some positive action."

The committee will also look to evidence from other countries with different drug laws, including places that have legalised certain recreational drugs, to see if there has been an impact on deaths or harm caused by drugs.

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