Drug law reform: letter from Minister for Drugs Policy

Letter from the Minister for Drugs Policy, Angela Constance, to UK Minister for Crime and Policing.

Dear Tom,

I am writing to congratulate you on your new role as Minister of State for Crime and Policing. In my role as the Minister for Drug Policy in Scotland, working directly to the First Minister, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and work on the areas where we are able to reduce the harms of drug use and address the number of related deaths. The number of these deaths have reached unacceptable record levels across the United Kingdom and are particularly acute in Scotland.

I am sure you will be aware of the on-going discussions between our governments on this issue. My recent discussion with Kit Malthouse included Safer Drug Consumption Facilities, the need for pill press regulations and the introduction of drug checking facilities of which I’m sure you will have received the detail.

I was disappointed to read the recent Home Office publication Swift, Certain, Tough that outlines new consequences for drug possession, with measures such as passport confiscation for drug possession that could apply here in Scotland. Increasing or expanding criminal sanctions have not in the past proven successful in preventing drug deaths. I would therefore oppose any decision to require Scotland to implement any of these measures and would highlight the significant risks inherent in this approach. I know that my officials have raised a number of concerns about the impact of this policy and the lack of evidence behind them.

Scotland has taken a different approach to the UK Government, implementing evidence informed measures that aim to treat drug use as a health issue. This is in line with recommendations from the evidence including from the ACMD; the recommendations of two UK Parliamentary Committees, the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee; as well as other experts and academics.

The most recent report on this issue was published by the independent Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce yesterday. It is called Changing Lives and I believe that the Drug Deaths Taskforce sent you the details yesterday morning. The report is available on the Drug Deaths Taskforce website. It identifies what needs to change to address Scotland's public health emergency and calls for swift and decisive action. It includes 20 evidence based recommendations all of which the Scottish Government will consider in detail and respond to as soon as possible.

A key recommendation is included for the UK Government to immediately begin the process of reviewing the law to enable a public health approach to drugs to be implemented. The detailed actions that the Drug Deaths Taskforce would like to see taken by the UK Government are highlighted in the Annex to this letter. I would be grateful if you could provide a detailed response to these actions.

As outlined above, a review of current legislation is in line with other expert groups that have examined this issue. I therefore question how much evidence will be enough. Legislative change, based on a robust evidence base of the public health approach would create a meaningful shift, like other countries have successfully delivered across the world.

In the meantime we continue to do everything in our power to implement a public health approach. The First Minister announced a National Mission to reduce drug related deaths and harms supported by an additional £50 million per annum. We will be publishing our high level plan for the National Mission next month and I would be pleased to provide you with an overview of that.

I would therefore welcome your commitment to working together to tackle drug-related harms and deaths and would like to meet to discuss what we can do collectively to respond to this public health emergency.

I look forward to your response on the above points.

Angela Constance MSP

Minister for Drugs Policy

Annex A

Scottish drug deaths taskforce: UK Government recommendations and actions

Recommendation 19: The UK Government should immediately begin the process of reviewing the law to enable a public health approach to drugs to be implemented. The Scottish Government should continue to engage with the UK Government to support these changes. In the interim, the Scottish Government should do everything in its power to implement a public health approach.

Action 2: The UK Government should amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2000 to allow for the legal provision of a wider range of drug paraphernalia through harm-reduction and treatment services. This is essential to enabling safer drug consumption

Action 4: The UK Government should review the regulations on dispensing and prescription forms for controlled drugs to take account of clinical and technological advances since implementation in 2001.

Action 5: The Scottish Government should work with the UK Government to deliver progress on the regulation of pill presses, including developing a suitable licensing system to reduce related harm.

Action 6: The UK Government should urgently remove the exemption set out in S3.1 of the Equality Act 2010, (Disability) Regulations 2010, and make drug dependency part of the protected characteristic of disability.

Action 9: The UK Government should undertake a root and branch review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, reforming the law to support harm-reduction measures and implement a public health approach.

Action 10: If the UK Government are not willing to reform the Misuse of Drugs Act, it should commit to exploring all available options openly with the Scottish Government to enable Scotland to take a public health approach.

Action 40: The UK Government should implement legislative changes to support the introduction of Supervised Drug Consumption Facilities. In the interim, the Scottish Government should continue its efforts with stakeholders to support their implementation within the existing legal framework.

Action 44: The UK Government should permanently reclassify naloxone from a POM to a Pharmacy or General Sales List medicine.

Action 45: In the absence of a full reclassification of naloxone, the Scottish Government should work closely with the UK Government to ensure that the changes planned reflect the breadth of the Lord Advocate’s Statement of Prosecution Policy in Scotland.

Action 71: The UK Government should conduct a review of the regulations on prescriptions by the end of this year. The review should take account of the changes made since the initial regulations were implemented in 2001.

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