Sturgeon told to follow Portugal model and decriminalise drugs to tackle rising deaths

Scotland 'should adopt Portugal's drug approach' says expert

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Drug documentary maker and Director of Hide & Seek media Dominic Streeter travelled throughout America, Australia and many other countries to understand the issues surrounding the illegal drug market and the people it affects. Mr Streeter has now begun to look at Scotland and the growing problem of drug deaths which saw over 1,200 Scots die in 2019 – turning it into the drug death capital of Europe by a huge margin. But Mr Streeter also suggested a solution to the problem after looking at Portugal and how it has turned around its drug issues.

Drugs have been decriminalised in Portgual since 2001 following a rise in drug deaths and concerns over AIDS spreading through shared needles. 

According to drug policy group Transform Drugs, drug deaths fell from 80 people in 2001 to 16 in 2012 – a far cry from the 1,200 who died in Scotland in 2019.

Those in the possession of drugs are not prosecuted criminally in Portugal but can face fines and other forms of punishment. 

Portugal’s government has also invested heavily in healthcare systems which sees authorities often referring those who break the rules to rehab or other services if they need it. 

Transform Drugs also suggests drug use is strongly related to cultural and economic trends with the decriminalising of drugs not leading to an increase in consumption.

Mr Streeter spoke to Express.co.uk about how Scotland could learn from this and said: “The prohibitionist stance that we’ve taken towards drug policy has driven a situation where drug use has increased, demand has increased, the harms associated with drugs have increased massively and drug deaths have gone through the sky.

“That’s the situation that prohibition has contributed massively towards.

“If you look at other countries, about 30 of them around the world are now adopting a different approach and starting to introduce different forms of decriminalisation or legalisation for some substances.

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“And the results are really strong compared to what we’re seeing in the UK.”

In Scotland, drug deaths have increased 160 percent since the SNP’s four years in power. 

Death figures have seen a steady increase since 1996 with the number doubling between 2014-2019.

In 2018, Scotland’s drug death rate per million was 218 with Estonia, which has the second-highest rate in Europe, hovering around 135 per million. 

Mr Streeter continued: “So, for example, Portugal 17 years ago had a situation that was very like Scotland they had a heroin epidemic – one percent of the population in Portugal were using heroin.

“In Scotland, it’s also over one percent now so it’s a similar kind of situation that they started with.

“And [Portugal] did something really radical, they said we’re exacerbating this problem by putting these drugs into the hands of a dodgy illegal underworld.

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“It was much better to decriminalise for people that have a problem with drugs and to work with them and help them.

“Like to prioritise education, to prioritise harm reduction, to prioritise support and what they found was the criminalization was a barrier to that because people were always hiding in the shadows with their drug use.

“They did that in 2001 and there was opposition to it at the time but the sun didn’t fall out of the sky and in fact now if you fast forward 20 years Portugal’s rate of HIV infections has come down massively.

“The rates of drug-related crime have come down massively, the rates of drug use have come down massively.

“So there’s this great irony that it’s no longer criminal to take drugs unless people want to.”

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