Scotland’s drug problem should be seen primarily as a health issue, rather than a police issue, a top police officer has claimed.
Chief Superintendent John McKenzie, the head of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities department, called for an end to the ‘stigma’ of drug use before giving evidence to MSPs.
Critics say his “regrettable” comments are a way of absolving the police of responsibility for drug enforcement.
Dr Neil McKeganey, Director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, said labelling drug use a health issue was “inaccurate and unwelcome”.
He said: “Drug use is as much a police issue as a health issue, as an educational issue.
“All of these sectors have an equally important role to play when it comes to tackling a drug problem in Scotland that is virtually unequalled anywhere in Europe.”
Scottish Conservative public health spokeswoman Annie Wells also pointed out that local communities who are affected by drug crimes want the police to take action.
She said: “People whose lives have been destroyed by drugs, and the waves of crime drugs bring to some communities, would prefer to see Police Scotland taking a tough stance.”
And Dharmacarini Kuladharini, Chief Executive of the Scottish Recovery Consortium, said society could not expect drug users to heed health advice, saying such attempts have been shown to be “ineffective”.
The Scottish Government has officially treated drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal issue, since April 2016, despite drugs being illegal.
Their position has led to proposals for ‘shooting galleries’ in Glasgow, with the city’s Health and Social Care Partnership pushing ahead with plans to provide addicts with medical grade heroin.
In an editorial, The Scottish Daily Mail said: “The talk is of ‘reducing the harm’ caused by drugs but simply abrogating responsibility for this thorny issue is no answer.
“The public know only too well how drugs blight – and often end – individual lives, and the damage they do to families and entire communities.”