A new minister in Scotland is on a mission to cut drug deaths. But a fresh approach to a complex problem is needed across the UK
There is no single measure of the harms caused by illegal drugs, but reformers focus on two main areas. The first is the damage caused by addiction, especially when this leads to serious illness or death. The second is the way that the trade and consumption of illegal drugs are dealt with by the criminal justice system. With deaths from illegal drugs at record levels, particularly in Scotland, where the SNP is facing strong criticism, it could not be clearer that support and treatment services are in a shockingly bad state. Investment is needed urgently, and not just money but ideas.
Questions about how illegal drug use is policed have also returned to the fore, as anti-racism campaigners in England highlight the disproportionate use of stop-and-search powers on people of colour (mostly young men), and the over-representation of black and minority ethnic males in young offender institutions. With police, prosecutors, courts and prisons all under intense pressure, and an enormous backlog of cases, now is a good moment to ask whether the state’s resources are being used well.