Drug Consumption rooms work. This isn’t new information, to those that have been paying any attention. There is a host of evidence across Europe, spanning many years, that these rooms help reach and maintain contact with chronic drug users who are not ready or willing to abstain from their use. Such environments provide a safe space, where there is medical supervision and advice on hand. It also allows a level of engagement with an extremely vulnerable section of society, that is much more difficult to achieve in other contexts. Drug consumption rooms are just one part of the broader package around decriminalising drug use and ending the failed “war on drugs”, so that we can sink the black market and bring our most vulnerable back into the mainstream where they can be supported and afforded appropriate care. This isn’t – or at least shouldn’t be – news to the Scottish Government. As far back as 2008, they published a strategy called “The Road to Recovery” which set out the radical steps that were required in order to properly address not only the root causes of drug addictions, but the immediate harms associated with it.
Media and political attention around increasing drug-related deaths in Scotland is both welcome and justified. It is scandalous that so many people – many of whom are scarred by a toxic mix of poverty, trauma and disadvantage – die each year because their only way of getting through their day to day life is by numbing their very existence. What is also welcome is the front page of the Daily Record two weeks ago, which appears to indicate that the Scottish Government will defy the UK Government – who hold reserved powers over drug laws – with regards to drug consumption rooms. We know that Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, is held back in many fundamental respects as a result of the narrow, regressive outlook that successive Westminster Governments have taken. For example, the link between Austerity, poverty and increased drug use cannot – and must not – be overlooked or ignored.
But it is high time the Scottish Government showed its teeth. And indeed, if the last few weeks have proven anything, there is a public appetite for them to do so, in the right circumstances. We know that the people of Scotland want to see grown up, civilised politics where there is healthy but respectful debate. But it is also obvious – and the pandemic has confirmed this – that the population expects their Government to look after the people they govern to ensure their well-being.
Civil disobedience is not something that should be indiscriminately utilised where any opportunity arises. However, there are circumstances where civil disobedience – as the kind hinted at on the front of the Daily Record – is both welcome and supported by the general public. It is most frustrating that Scotland cannot get on with addressing these issues, without fear of the legal consequences or constitutional constraints. That is why I, and many other, wish for us to be a self-governing, autonomous country. But there are radical actions that we can and must take now, for the sake of our citizens. Implementing drug consumption rooms is a good start.