Save Lives – Save Money – Safe Consumption

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We, the Edinburgh Young Communist League, have started our Save Lives, Save Money, Safe Consumption Campaign, which aims to spread awareness for alternative, healthcare-based approaches to Scotland’s Drug crisis. Our goal is to see Edinburgh City Council approve plans and funding for a Safe Consumption Facility (SCF) in Edinburgh; Glasgow City Council has already approved these measures.
Save Lives – The Impact of Drugs in Edinburgh and Scotland
Since the 1980’s, drug abuse and drug-related deaths in Scotland have been increasing every year at a devastating rate. Scotland has the highest rate of drug-related deaths per capita in all of Europe, estimated to be three and a half times higher than in England and Wales. Drug use disorders are now the sixth leading cause of premature deaths in Scotland, with 1339 drug-related deaths in 2020, an increase of 5% from 2019, the highest recorded increase.
Drug-related deaths have been increasing rapidly since the mid-2010s, In Edinburgh specifically, drug-related deaths have more than tripled according to statistics released by the National Records of Scotland. This data shows that between 2000-04, drugs were responsible for the death of 5 in 100,000 people; by 2016-20 this rose to 16 in every 100,000.
These facts are grim and expose the gross negligence of our public officials and government bodies whose policies have not only failed to curb spiralling drug deaths but caused immeasurable damage to Edinburgh’s working-class communities in the process.
Save Money – Drugs and the Economy
Problematic drug use disproportionately impacts those who already suffer from socio-economic disadvantages, with council areas in Scotland having higher drug usage rates than the national average. Furthermore, in 2020 it was found that those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland were 18 times more likely to die from drug use than those in the least deprived, a ratio that has almost doubled in the past 20 years.
The failures of our current criminal justice-based drug policy have not only cost the lives of far too many, but our ineffectual drug policy comes at great expense to our health service and the taxpayer. In 2016/17, there were 8,546 general acute hospital stays diagnosed with drug misuse in Scotland, of which 54% were new patients. The latest assessment (2009) of the total economic and social costs of illicit drug use in Scotland was estimated to be around £3.5bn a year. And in the year 2007/08, £173 million was spent by the Scottish government on drug and alcohol services, being split between NHS boards, councils, the police, the prison service, and research.
Shifting focus from criminal justice to harm reduction measures, such as SCFs, will help alleviate the burden drug misuse bears on our NHS by providing safe and supervised environments for drug use, preventing the need for life-saving care. It also offers an opportunity to divert money from Police task forces that have failed to combat drug use at significant expense.
Safe Consumption – What is to be done?
A Safe Consumption Facility (SCF) in Edinburgh will provide a safe, clean space for people to use drugs to use under the supervision of trained staff. SCFs are proven to effectively prevent accidental overdoses, reduce the spread of infectious diseases, and provide access to health and social services, including substance treatment, for those ready to make this decision.
The use of drugs in a safe, supervised environment allows people not to feel rushed into consuming, with trained professionals on hand to provide support and assistance should a medical emergency occur. The use of hygienic facilities, for example, clean needles, would prevent the transmission of diseases, another significant risk associated with drug use.
The Scottish Public Affairs Committee Report 2019 report on drug misuse in Scotland acknowledges the medical and academic consensus that SCFs effectively reduce the harm drug misuse causes. Furthermore, it acknowledges that there is no evidence to suggest SCFs increase drug consumption, long-term drug use, or crime rates.
SCFs also provide access to other essential health services, such as safe disposal of used needles, emergency medical care, and testing for infectious diseases. Crucially SCFs act as a gateway to further treatment, education, housing, and employment services which provide a pathway away from addiction by helping to tackle the underlying causes of drug misuse.
SCFs are not a cure in themselves but provide an efficient means to combat our current drug death crisis, alleviate the toll drug misuses hospital admissions take on the NHS and provide the first step towards a more humane drug policy that puts people first.