HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ministers Declare 'War On Drugs' Is Over
Pubdate: Sun, 03 Mar 2002
Source: Sunday Herald, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Sunday Herald
Author: Neil Mackay, Home Affairs Editor


No More 'Just Say No' Campaigns ... Instead, Harm Reduction, Rehabilitation 
And Information Will Be The Policy

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.
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