Leading health charities ask candidates to back their pledge on drugs

HIV Scotland, Waverley Care, The Hepatitis C Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, and the Hwupenyu Project have today written to all prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) in the upcoming general election, on December 12th, to ask them to back a new approach to drug policy. Using the hashtag #DrugReformNow, PPCs can pledge their support for the campaign by posting on social media confirming their support with a printable pledge.
Following the report from the Scottish Affairs Committee – Problem Drug Use in Scotland – which called for a new approach to drug policy, the five leading charities have issued a list of five key asks:

  1.    take a public health, rather than criminal justice approach to drug policy, acknowledging the underlying causes of drug use, including poverty, homelessness and inequality;
  2.    work with the Scottish Government to implement integrated, evidence-based approaches to drugs policy that address these underlying causes;
  3.    amend existing regulations attached to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in such a way as to enable the operation of a pilot Drug Consumption Room in Glasgow, or to devolve the necessary power to the Scottish Parliament;
  4.    consult on the issue of decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use across the UK;
  5.    promote appropriate and non-stigmatising language when discussing drugs, and challenge misrepresentation where it occurs to improve public understanding of drug related issues.
Nathan Sparling, Chief Executive of HIV Scotland, said: “Over the last ten years, drug deaths have increased by over 400%. This is not a distant threat; this is a present danger. As well as fueling the HIV and hepatitis C epidemic, drug criminalisation has condemned a whole swathe of marginalised communities to the criminal justice system when what they need is compassion and succour. Decriminalisation is not a radical idea; it’s an analysis of evidence and international precedent. By taking an evidence-based, public health approach to drug policy, we can have open, destigmatised action, not hyperbole or criminality. We can only get to zero new HIV transmissions if a future UK Government back this action.”
Grant Sugden, Chief Executive of Waverley Care, said: “Glasgow has had the most serious outbreak of HIV since the 1980s amongst people who inject drugs in Scotland. This is fueled by health inequalities including poverty and homelessness as well as changes in injecting behaviour. To address this and wider drug related harm, Scotland needs an integrated approach to drug policy to address the underlying causes and to ensure that the right services are available for those most at risk. Prospective parliamentary candidates need to come together on this issue and understand that drug use is a complex issue that requires a range of solutions.”
Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We know that drug consumption rooms are not a onestop quick fix for this issue, and that further work must be done on addressing the root causes of problem drug use, but in every place they’ve been tried we have seen fewer drug related deaths, fewer transmissions of blood-borne viruses, and a destigmatised culture that allows for open, honest discussion.”
Hosanna Bankhead, Chief Executive of the Hwupenyu Project, said: “Drug criminalisation is an issue that disproportionately affects already marginalised sections of society, such as people of colour and working-class communities. Locking people up for drug offences treats the issue as one of criminality, rather than as the public health emergency that we’re currently facing. Moving toward decriminalisation for personal use, coupled with a drug consumption room in Glasgow, would mean that people could seek the help and treatment that they need without the fear of being put behind bars.”
Clive King, Scotland Partnerships & Development Manager of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Institutionalised stigma when it comes to drug policy leads inexorably to poor health outcomes, and only by addressing that stigma can we ever hope to move forward and have a frank conversation about the way in which we can tackle problem drug use in Scotland. A commitment from prospective parliamentary candidates to use appropriate, non-stigmatising language is a little thing that could go a long way and could further guarantee that misinformation and negativity is removed from this debate.”