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Forum Sets Out Radical Drugs Plan

BBC News, June 9, 2008

A report published by a Scottish Parliament-backed think tank has called for radical new ways to tackle the damage done by drugs and alcohol.

Recommendations include the setting up of "consumption rooms" where addicts would be able to take drugs safely, and for heroin to be prescribed to users.

The report also suggested the taxation of cannabis to enable it to be more tightly regulated.

The Scotland's Futures Forum was asked to look at ways of tackling addiction.

The think tank was established by the parliament and was tasked with looking at the challenges facing Scotland, and seeking ways to meet those challenges.

In this latest report it asked how the damage caused by alcohol and drugs in Scotland could be halved by 2025.

It said drug use had been historically seen as a justice issue but should be treated as a health, lifestyle and social challenge.

The report said a greater proportion of resources should be allocated to treatment research, monitoring and evaluation.

It examined the idea of drug consumption rooms and heroin-assisted treatment to combat the high levels of drug-related deaths and hepatitis C infection.

It also studied law enforcement and found prison unproductive and unsustainable for low-level alcohol and drug offences.

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The forum believes cannabis should be taxed and highly regulated to help reduce availability and harm.

A Scottish Government spokesman ruled out any imminent establishment of drug consumption rooms.

"There are complex legal and ethical issues around consumption rooms that cannot be easily resolved," he said.

Approaches to heroin prescribing are currently being piloted in England, the spokesman added.

He said Scotland would "wait and see" what lessons can be learned from those.

Tory leader Annabel Goldie branded the consumption rooms as "shooting galleries".

She said they - and legalising cannabis - were ideas of the last two decades.

Street disorder

But Lib Dem justice spokeswoman Margaret Smith said: "Drugs misuse is a global problem and if other countries have developed new and radical solutions, then it is sensible to consider them for use in Scotland."

Former health minister Susan Deacon, who is now professor of social change at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, said it was important to be "open-minded" about the possible solutions to the drugs problem.

Canadian Senator Larry Campbell, who was behind the setting up of injection sites in Vancouver in 2003, said addiction should be treated as an illness.

He said: "We have 600 injections a day on average, we have had over 1,000 overdoses in the clinic, and we have never had one person die.

"If they had been injecting in an alley or in a room by themselves, we would have had a number of people dead.

"Secondly we have seen our HIV and hepatitis rates stabilise because they are not using dirty needles."

He also added that more people were getting treatment for addiction, and street disorder had decreased as a result of the injection rooms.

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