THIS weekend Scotland's drugs minister has officially declared that the 30-year war on drugs is over. In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Herald, Dr Richard Simpson, also the deputy justice minister, said: 'The only time you will hear me use terms such as 'War On Drugs' and 'Just Say No' is to denigrate them.'
Instead Simpson has pledged to ensure that Scotland's harm- reduction, methadone, and rehabilitation services are fixed.
Simpson, who was a prison doctor, said: 'I've never used the term 'teach children how to take drugs', but what I would say is that we need to provide them with information. We need to say 'we'd rather you didn't take ecstasy, but if you make that decision, here are the risks'. We have to give them all the information they need to take responsibility for themselves.
'It's not about us wagging a finger at young people as they won't pay attention to that -- so it's not worthwhile. We've got to be very realistic and not say 'you're going to die if you take ecstasy', what we will say is 'some people do die when they take ecstasy but we don't truly know why'.'
He said that 'we can't pretend that we're going to stop the availability of drugs' or people using drugs, and the concept of 'Just Say No' had therefore been abandoned for good.
In an another interview, the UK pensions minister Ian McCartney, whose son died of a heroin overdose because he was not given methadone in jail, told the Sunday Herald: 'It wasn't a prison sentence he got, it was a death sentence. There is no sense to the current system. Going to jail harmed my son and did nothing to address the cause of crime.'
Now he is determined to change the system. 'I'm not just a government minister,' he said. 'I'm a parent too, and if I thought our strategy was flawed I wouldn't be part of it. The prevailing attitude both in and out of government towards addicts has been 'it's all your own fault'. That's why we have virtually no treatment services and a legacy of 3000 deaths a year. In 20 years, 60,000 people have died -- that's enough to fill Ibrox Stadium. That's why we need harm-reduction policies in place.'
His Scottish government colleague Simpson also edged close to support for a Royal Commission on drugs saying that the debate was 'stifled', and issues such as legalisation and decriminalisation 'have to be addressed', adding: 'We can't have a genuine debate about these issues because some of the press turn around and say that's wrong. We need to have that debate, we need to be more sophisticated about our approach. I think this parliament has to talk about it much more openly.'
As part of an in-depth Sunday Herald investigation into Scotland's drug problem, we found that some addicts wait as long as two years to get methadone. Simpson said there must be 'adequate resources' for all drug addicts and if services were not improved then 'questions would have to be asked of local health boards'.
He attacked the jailing of addicts for short prison terms : 'Drug addicts going into prison and coming back out again is a waste of public money. It neither addresses their offending behaviour nor does it cut crime. It's purposeless ... We have our priorities wrong.' He added that he would like to see 'very, very, very many fewer' addicts going to prison.
He favours exploring the concept of ecstasy testing kits in clubs to reduce risk. He is unconvinced whether or not cannabis is a gateway drug, adding that the Executive was less concerned with people possessing illegal drugs than with them resorting to crime to feed their habit.
Backing David Blunkett's plan to downgrade the criminal classification of cannabis, he said: 'We need to concentrate on the most dangerous drugs and that is class-As such as heroin and cocaine. The reason for changing the classification of cannabis -- if we chose to -- is to send a clear message about priorities. It says to young people that we recognise that all drugs aren't the same.
'If we give messages that they are all bad then we will not be believed. Young people say alcohol causes five times the deaths that drugs do. Last year there were 1500 deaths due to alcohol and 292 from drugs. From a criminal point of view young men drinking and becoming aggressive is a significant problem ... cannabis is not associated with aggression.'
Simpson said he looked on drug addiction as a health problem as well as a criminal one.
©2002 smg sunday newspapers ltd