Top lawyer advises drug use to be decriminalized to address the death crisis

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Scotland’s Lawyer of the Year has called for substance use to be decriminalized as part of the response to the drug problem in the region.

Iain Smith claims that decriminalizing substance use would help to take away from patients the stigma and classification and help them to be treated as “people who are in pain and need help.”

The advocate, who last month won the top award at the Scottish Legal Awards, has been lobbying for many years to provide more information on trauma to those involved in the justice system.

Mr Smith – of Keegan Smith Defence Solicitors – called for decriminalization and for more recovery services to be made available after statistics showed that overdose deaths in Scotland had reached a record high of 1,264, the worst rate in Europe.

He said, “Most people I know who use heroin have had childhood trauma, and almost all those who have died. Heroin, drugs, and alcohol are ways to cope with them.”

“In society, there must be a shift away from seeing it as the death of “junkies” to the death of abused, traumatized children who have become adults,” she said.

“That’s why I’m a decriminalization supporter. You take out the stigma when you take out the illegal aspect, you take out the labeling, and you understand that there are individuals who need support.

In the 1920s, he spoke of parallels to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States, stating that the illegalization of drugs created a “criminal culture, a subculture of users, where gangsters make money off of those who are vulnerable.”

Drug use criminalization comes under the Abuse of Drugs Act, which is reserved for Westminster.

The Scottish government claims that to make improvements such as secure injection facilities, it needs more power over the legislation, but critics say that much more should also be done in Scotland to improve the situation.

Activists are calling for an end to drug users’ “marginalization” as the number of fatal overdoses approaches an all-time high in Scotland.

Figures from Scotland’s National Records indicate that last year there were a staggering 1,264 overdose deaths, the highest drug death rate in Europe and three and a half times that of the United Kingdom as a whole.

It is now the sixth year in a row that drug deaths have risen in number. There were 244 deaths in 1996, when records started.

The majority of those who died – 877 – were men, and two-thirds of fatal overdoses were caused by drug users aged 35 to 54.

However, there is also evidence of a rise in overdose fatalities among younger Scots, compared with 64 in 2018, with 76 deaths among users aged 15 to 24 last year.

As with other age groups, the vast majority of deaths among younger drug users were linked to heroin and other opiates, but they were also more likely to use ecstasy than older drug users.

In 10 of the 76 overdoses in the under-25 age group, the party drug was detected, compared with nine for all drug users aged 35 and over.

The activities of Scots – particularly heroin users – date back to the 1980s and 1990s, when substance addiction reached a peak in Scotland.

In the last decade, there were 7,750 deaths, compared with 4,010 in the previous 10 years.

Most of the rise in opioid deaths is due to ageing and developing respiratory and liver disorders in these persons, as well as blood-borne viruses that increase their susceptibility to overdoses.

David Liddell, the Scottish Drugs Forum’s executive director, said the case was a “national tragedy and shame.”

Too frequently, he said, addiction programs have struggled to meet and keep in contact with opioid users who have chaotic lives, are more likely to be poor, and have often developed an addiction to untreated mental illness or childhood trauma.

It has been argued, however, that the legislation is not so stringent that it would preclude more from being achieved by Scottish ministers, although the UK government has so far rejected calls to amend the law, claiming that it would not be advantageous.

The Scottish opioid death rate has cost Minister of Health Joe FitzPatrick, who resigned after growing scrutiny on policy failures.

Nicola Sturg Sturg

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