Pubdate: Tue, 25 May 2004
Source: Edinburgh Evening News (UK)
Copyright: 2004 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Jane Hamilton


EDINBURGH is set to become the first Scots city to get its own drugs and
alcohol "tsar".

The move is in response to the growing problems of drugs and alcohol in the

Latest figures show a worrying rise in the number of drug-related deaths in
Edinburgh. In the first three months of 2004, 11 people died as a result of
drug abuse - nearly half the death toll, of 27, for the whole of 2002.

The report also shows that 27,000 men and almost 10,000 women in the city
have alcohol problems and nearly half of all 15-year-olds drink on a regular

The new "tsar" will be tasked with leading the fight against drugs and
alcohol misuse by ensuring the various projects across the city work
together and share information.

The figurehead will also be expected to come up with new ways of tackling
the scourge of substance abuse.

In a report to the city council, chief executive Tom Aitchison said drugs
and alcohol misuse "are deep-rooted problems in society."

He said: "They have adverse social and health consequences for individuals
and their families and damaging effects on communities.

"The link between drug misuse and crime is well documented, while the
influence of alcohol in violent crime, both domestic and in public places,
has been recognised for many years."

He added: "Alcohol has never been more available, accessible or affordable
in Edinburgh and current evidence suggests real problems with binge drinking
and younger people drinking alcohol more frequently.

"The consequences and costs of alcohol misuse and the burden this places on
the NHS, social work, housing and law enforcement agencies are immense.
Illegal hard drugs remain available throughout the city, despite the best
efforts of all agencies."

In a study carried out in 2001, 5872 people in Edinburgh admitted to having
a drugs problem. Experts believe this year's figure will be even higher.

Mr Aitchsison continued: "In relation to alcohol misuse, it is estimated
that approximately 27,000 males and 9500 females in the city have
alcohol-related problems. One local research study conducted in the city
last year suggested that almost 50 per cent of 15-year-olds drank alcohol at
least once a month, with half of this number saying that they drank on a
weekly basis.

The report showed that from April 2002 to April 2003 more than 1300 new
users in Edinburgh approached drug agencies for help to overcome their

It said most of the users were under 29 years old and almost half said they
injected or shared needles, putting themselves at risk of contracting
blood-related diseases such as Aids or hepatitis. Mr Aitchison said: "The
vast majority (of users) had no record of sustained employment or stable

"Nearly a quarter of this population were living with young dependent

City council leader Donald Anderson said: "This is an important next step
towards the appointment of Edinburgh's drugs champion. It is also another
example of close working between the council and NHS Lothian.

"Not only does the misuse of drugs and alcohol have huge social and health
consequences for individuals and their families, but our communities are
also suffering. We are determined to be robust and focused in the way that
we tackle this huge issue. This new post will play a vital role in this."

In 1997, the Government appointed Keith Hellawell as Britain's first
nationwide drugs tsar.

The former West Yorkshire chief constable moved to a part-time post advising
on international aspects of drug policy in October 2001. He quit that job in
July 2002 in protest over the reclassification of cannabis. 
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