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by Louise Wilson
24 November 2022
Home Office approach to drugs may ‘cause more harm’ warns Scottish minister

Home Office approach to drugs may ‘cause more harm’ warns Scottish minister

Scotland’s drugs minister has warned the Home Office’s updated approach to substance misuse could “potentially cause more harm”.

Speaking to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament, Angela Constance said she was still seeking clarity on whether the actions set out in a white paper published in August would apply to Scotland.

That white paper, published by then home secretary Priti Patel, said the proposals would ensure “drug users are more likely to be caught, and that they face tougher and more meaningful consequences”.

It contrasts with the preferred public health approach of the Scottish Government.

Constance said: “What’s uppermost in my mind just now is the UK Government white paper on swift, tough consequences. I think that’s misguided, I think it will potentially cause more harm, I think it’s based on an outmoded, punitive approach. I continue to seek urgent clarify on if and how it would apply to Scotland.”

It is believed the two of the three tiers – the most and least stringent responses – could apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The minister is set to meet her counterpart at the start of December to further discuss the matter.

Also up for discussion will be the prospect of drug law reform. Constance told MSPs that the Misuse of Drugs Act “impairs, in my view, some of our approaches to harm reduction or certainly makes that journey towards improving harm reduction interventions harder”.

She said international evidence made it clear that a public health approach was “more effective,” but the UK Government had so far indicated no intention of altering the existing law.

The minister was also challenged at the committee on the high rate of drug-related deaths among the homeless population.

Statistics published this week found that more than half of homeless deaths last year were as a result of drugs.

Tory MSP Miles Briggs said the government’s Housing First policy “is not delivering for this group of people” and called for more supported accommodation to be funded.

Constance said that while Housing First was “meant to have enough flexibility to meet the needs of individuals”, she accepted a need for other models of care.

However, she highlighted that the number of drug deaths among homeless people had dropped from 151 to 127. “They’re still too high but it does point to some movement,” she said.

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