Pubdate: Wed, 05 Aug 1998
Source: Scotsman (UK) 


THE statistics on drug misuse in Scotland make grim and depressing reading.
To quote almost exactly from the latest Scottish Office report, drug use
continues to be most common among those aged 16 to 25. One of the most
serious concerns is the age at which people are starting to misuse drugs.

A recent survey has revealed that 11 per cent of pupils in their first year
of secondary school were taking drugs and the figure rose to 57 per cent by
the fourth year, over 1 per cent of whom were using heroin. The statistics
are frightening and every parent should he aware that no child is safe from
exposure to drugs. They are ubiquitous.

Over many years the various bodies which have responsibility for our health
and that of our children have adopted a variety of strategies to combat
drugs. The debate has raged between the "just say no" camp, who claim that
there should be no tolerance of drugs whatsoever, and those who advocate a
harm reduction strategy. This approach, they say, accepts the reality that
many people will use drugs and argues that they should at least know more
about them and the dangers involved.

In Scotland we bave seen the hard-hitting approach adopted by the previous
Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth, in the Scotland Against Drugs campaign,
but the spectacle of middle-aged politicians in tee-shirts telling young
people how to behave was not a productive message to send youngsters whose
instincts are to rebel against authority.

The change of approach which Mr Forsyth's successor, Donald Dewar, insisted
upon for SAD, emphasising working with local communities and involving the
private sector in campaigns, appears to make more sense. But as the
statistics prove, neither approach has been able to stem the drugs tide.

This elevated debate over strategy will, however be of little comfort to the
distraught parents of Julia Dawes, the latest victim of the escalating drugs

The drug which has contributed to her death is called, cruelly, ecstasy. The
image of of euphoria hides a deadly reality. No matter what its apologists
may say about the supposedly small chance of something going wrong with an
"e" tablet, the plain fact is that normal doses of ecstasy can kill. It is a
harsh, brutal truth which Julia Dawes's family will be trying to come to
terms with.

And when they have done so, as much as anyone can ever come to terms with
the loss of a child, they will begin to wonder what went wrong. They will,
inevitably, ask questions of themselves and they will ask questions of
society. How can an illegal drug be so widely available? Why have the forces
of law not done more to curb its availability?

Society has no easy answer. We do, though, have a responsibility to try to
provide better solutions, however inadequate. What is needed is a
multi-layered approach involving the police, teachers, and social workers
but also - and perhaps most importantly - the vast majority of the public
who are opposed to drugs.

Tony Blair has appointed a "drugs tsar" for Britain but although he has
certain strategic responsibilities in Scotland, ministers here make drugs
policy. By the time the first Scottish parliament sits, we will be able to
judge how effective the tsar has been. If he has made an impact, then
Holyrood will have to consider the option. But for now the problem rests
squarely with Mr Dewar and his team. Already this year the number of
drugs-related deaths in Strathclyde has exceeded the figure for 1997. The
current policies are - clearly not working: this is an issue that requires
hard work and resolve, not mere presentational skills. Can this Government
rise to it?

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Checked-by: Melodi Cornett