SHOCK and awe. That, I suppose, was the constable’s strategy. When the drugs squad dropped in to see us one afternoon in high school, they brought slides. One showed a bleak looking bedsit, and the body of a man who’d choked to death on his own vomit. It was an awful sight.

He brought other dark stories with him, of husbands sawing off their wives’ heads under the influence of LSD, tales of grieving mothers, and bright and happy looking teenagers, reduced to skeletons by a single pill. This was drugs education in the spirit of Mr Mackay. His unsubtle message, as you might have guessed by now, was “drugs are bad, just say no”.

And considering what a great number of my contemporaries got up to after having taken in this blood-curdling talk, its message was startlingly ineffective. Why? Because aged 16 or 17 we could already see through the officer’s manipulative and one-sided framing of the issues. We could tell we were being bullshitted.

It wasn’t that we didn’t believe the poor soul we were shown had coughed out his last under the influence of heroin. It wasn’t that we disbelieved there were many souls like him in many – far too many – homes across Scotland.

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Bad trips with tragic consequences are eminently believable. But throughout the policeman’s lecture, drugs were being discussed as if they were a big one-sided phenomena of woe and misery, death and paranoia and deviated septums.

And not to put too fine a point on it, experience had already taught many of us this just wasn’t true. Or to put it more precisely, we knew we weren’t being told the whole, honest – often ambivalent – story about the experiences, pleasures and risks of taking drugs.

This might seem an odd – even wrong-headed – theme to open with, in a week when we discovered that Scottish drug deaths have hit a generational high.

But it is precisely because of the starkness and brutality of those figures, that we need to think carefully and clearly about what we’re talking about when we discuss “the drug problem” or “drug policy” in this country.

We shouldn’t make the same mistake as the drugs squad officer in the classroom. We shouldn’t caricature drug use, as if it involved only one type of user, or one type of drug, or one kind of problem, with one set of consequences.

Look again at this week’s data. In 2018, statisticians recorded 1187 drug-related deaths in Scotland. This represented an increase of 253 deaths – 27% more – than 2017. Putting last year’s numbers into the longer perspective of the decade, 2018 ended with 613 more drug-related deaths than 2008. This amounts to an increase of 107% in the number of users dying.

The gendered breakdown suggests this is yet another social problem predominantly affecting Scotland’s men. Men accounted for 72% of the dead last year.

And in terms of the substances used? The figures suggest it is often a cocktail of substances which are implicated. Opiates such as heroin and methadone potentially contributed to 86% of recorded deaths, the figures say.

In a new dynamic, insomnia and anxiety drugs – benzodiazepines – were implicated in 67% of recorded deaths, with so-called “street valium” potentially contributing to 57% of the 1187.

These are appalling, harrowing numbers. In the wake of the dismal 2018 drugs death statistics, some have called for decriminalisation of drugs for personal use, while keeping the boot of law enforcement at the throat of the major producers, distributors and importers.

This approach has some obvious advantages to it. For users trying to access services, the decriminalisation of limited drugs possession may eliminate barriers and anxieties about being lifted and prosecuted as a result of drugs being uncovered.

READ MORE: A Citizens’ Assembly should be convened to revise drugs policy

Others argue for a more limited exception to be provided for safe injection rooms, immunising staff and people using the service from the ordinary processes of arrest, prosecution and charge which could apply when an individual is found in possession of a Class A drug.

The hard-headed, practical case for these public health innovations was powerful when Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament backed them in the spring of last year. Against the backdrop of this week’s figures, the cry for Westminster to move on from its entrenched opposition ought to be deafening.

But beyond these laudable goals, a more radical, hard-headed appraisal of this country’s relationships with drugs for personal use would have the

secondary benefit of ending the endemic hypocrisy of our culture, which obliges public figures to scurry around pretending that they’ve never ever tried it, even once, or coming up with self-serving minimisation strategies to avoid being monstered in the tabloids.

The National:

IT seems appropriate that the Tory Party leadership election should begin with a drugs scandal, and end with another. Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and the rest were prepared to admit to having brushed fleetingly against some of the more socially-acceptable controlled substances. When this first spilled out, I was struck by how improbably tame the roster of drugs the Tory politicians admitted to taking were.

Rory Stewart conceded a puff on a Persian opium pipe. Michael Gove admitted to being ganting for blow during his career on Fleet Street, before he entered politics proper. Jeremy Hunt conceded an encounter with a “cannabis lassi when I went backpacking through India.” Dominic Raab said, somewhat incongruously, “at university, I tried cannabis, not very often as I was into sport,” as if you couldn’t imagine a grotesquely muscled stoner with right-wing political convictions bursting your sternum with a hockey puck and burying your carcass in a shallow grave at the edge of the sports field.

Ickle Matt Hancock, presumably just to keep up with the other boys, claimed to having had a go at weed during his undergrad years.

READ MORE: Scottish drug deaths: Joe FitzPartick's plea to Tories for talks

And to be honest, when all of these Honourable Members were recounting their druggie days – my reaction was – is that it, really? I’m prepared to believe that a young Theresa May’s only vice was making crop-circles in rural Oxfordshire. But this band of veiny, ambitious, pop-eyed, half-addled bozos? In all their days, they’ve just had a gentle huff on a reefer, or the occasional regretted encounter with a line of cocaine?

I remain, shall we say, sceptical. It would do the world a power of good if our politicians were plain and honest about what they’d done, or seen done, or been tempted to do.

Don’t kid yourself. The classification of drugs is not dictated by whether the drugs are addictive, or their propensity to cause damage to the human body. The criminalisation of particular substances often has little to do the harm they cause. The Misuse of Drugs Act is a reserved matter. The legislation has now proven itself doubly ineffective.

It stands in the way of safe injection rooms, by criminalising occupiers of premises who allow drugs to be used on site. It does nothing to help those with chronic addiction issues, and it creates a veneer of criminalisation of personal drug possession which a large number of ordinary people engage in, and which almost nobody seriously wishes to see enforced.

Honesty would be a radical drugs policy. Honesty would let us focus on the particular social and economic circumstances, which led more than 1187 people to their deaths last year. Honesty would open up a space in which adults could talk to young people candidly, like responsible people. Tell them the truth rather than trying to manipulate them with horror stories, and the kids might listen.