In recent days, a report by the Scottish government certified that Scotland remained the place in Europe with the highest number of deaths caused by drug use this year. The problem has been known for several years now, but despite the government's efforts it continues to worsen. In 2019, the year to which the most recent data refer, 1,264 people died of drug-related causes in Scotland, six per cent more than in 2018 and about double the figure recorded in 2014, just six years ago.
No European country has such negative data. In Slovakia, a European country with a similar population, 17 people died of drug-related causes three years ago. Although some countries underestimate the total figures, Scotland's death rate was 15 times the European average in 2019.
Scotland's problems in this area come from afar. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a first spike in drug use linked to the deindustrialisation of some of the poorest areas of the region, and the progressive impoverishment of the less wealthy classes (GDP per capita in Scotland has always been lower than the British average. ). More recently, data has started growing again since 2013, according to experts for a number of different factors.
First of all, there is the failure to decriminalize some minor offenses related to drug use, which has been happening in several European countries for many years now. The prevailing approach in various parts of British society - including in the Conservative Party, currently head of the central government that sets the approach to be taken throughout the Kingdom - is that reducing the use of so-called hard drugs is a question of safety. , more than health. The courts, therefore, prefer to confine drug addicts in prison rather than direct them to recovery paths: something that happened regularly throughout Europe until recently.
Today, however, the approach of the more advanced countries has changed, so much so that both the local police and the Scottish task force to prevent drug-related deaths have long pushed for the central government to keep pace with the times. Steve Johnson, one of the deputy commanders of the Scottish police, told BBC News that the political class should have "the audacity and the courage" to decriminalize certain drug-related offenses, while the head of the Scottish task force Catriona Matheson he argues that putting drug users in prison "contributes to their marginalization, and makes their rehabilitation much more difficult."
The central government disagrees, and argues that there is "a strong link between drug use and crime": "for this reason we reject the thesis that the Department of Health should deal with excessive drug use" .
Even the local government - led since 2007 by the center-left Scottish National Party - has its faults, according to some. David Liddell, head of a large foundation that aims to reduce drug-related deaths, explained that in 2015 the government cut 15 million pounds, or 16.6 million euros, to the Alcohol and Drug Partnerships project, which promoted cooperation between the various local authorities and a more sanitary rather than legal approach.
The fact that in recent years low-cost opiate-based drugs have also not helped: two-thirds of the deaths recorded in 2019 were linked to the so-called "street Valium", a cocktail of benzodiazepine-based psychiatric drugs that cost little more than 50 cents per dose.
The average age of drug-related deaths has also increased significantly in recent years, from 28 in 1999 to 42 in 2019. It means that the system has failed to help many adults who have never recovered from a first phase of drug addiction, and that they carried it with them to the end. The deaths of people aged between 15 and 24 are in fact a small part of the total: in 2019 they were 76, just 6 percent of the total.
The solutions that the Scottish Government is thinking of mainly involve setting up facilities where drug addicts can use drugs under the supervision of health professionals (activated on a trial basis in Glasgow), and programs to provide them with substances that are safer than they can. procure it on the street: but it will be difficult to obtain concrete results without the consent of the central government.