THE leader of a dedicated team tackling the drug deaths emergency has slammed Tory proposals to further criminalise drug use and contrasted them with the public health approach being shaped in Scotland.

David Strang, the chair of the Drugs Deaths Taskforce, said measures being touted by the Conservative UK Government such as stripping recreational drug users of their passports were “unhelpful”.

He compared Westminster’s approach to that of the Scottish Government, which is now treating drug use as a public health emergency rather than a criminal matter, primarily.

On average, three people in Scotland die every day because of drug use, the highest rate in Europe and nearly five times higher than the rate in England and Wales.

Speaking ahead of the launch of the taskforce’s action plan for tackling the “shocking” drugs emergency, Strang stressed that Scotland had a “difficult” journey ahead in reducing the “tragedy” of drug-related deaths.

The National: David Strang was formerly served as the Chief Inspector of Prisons for ScotlandDavid Strang was formerly served as the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland

Warning that the issue was used as a “political football”, the former chief prisons inspector said criminalising addiction risked failing to tackle both its causes and the health consequences for drug users.

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“This is a health issue and people need treating,” said Strang.

“I suppose we see contrast with down south where we see proposals for ‘three strikes and you’re out’, about much harsher enforcement.

“I think all of those things are unhelpful because it reinforces that people who use drugs are guilty of criminal behaviour.

“If we’re genuinely going to tackle the number of drugs deaths then we need to be consistent in sticking to a public health approach.”

It comes after Tory Home Secretary Priti Patel unveiled her new plans to crack down on drug use earlier this week, including proposals to make recreational drug users subject to a series of escalating penalties including state-mandated drug testing.

The National: Priti Patel has pledged a renewed crackdown on minor drug offences in England Priti Patel has pledged a renewed crackdown on minor drug offences in England

The report, published today, is titled Changing Lives and contains 139 policy recommendations which Strang said the taskforce expects the Government to incorporate into an action plan to be published six months from now.

Its recommendations range from large legislative steps such as reforming the “outdated” Misuse of Drugs Act and calls for safe consumption rooms to be established to allow users to take drugs in supervised facilities, to plans to reduce the stigma against drug users across society.

It also makes a number of recommendations relating to how drug users are treated by all services, urging public sector workers across the board to be trained in how best to help drug users access services and support in tackling their addiction.

This would apply to huge swathes of society, from emergency services responding to someone suffering an overdose, who the report say should begin the process of referring the person to addiction services, to teachers and housing officers, who should be taught how to spot addiction symptoms and take action.

READ MORE: Tories' plan to combat drugs deaths 'neither radical nor practical', expert says

Strang said the proposals in the report had not been costed but conceded they are likely to be expensive.

“If the Government are really serious about really implementing this as a public health emergency response, then they need to realise that there’s a big challenge – it’s a big commitment,” he added.

“If you’re serious about this then, absolutely, it’ll take resources. Some changes won’t, it’s about attitudes but other things will.

“But I think there is another question – what is the cost of not doing it? What are the costs of the medical care and treatment of people who have been trying for years to get off drugs or reduce their consumption?”

The taskforce also stressed that people whose lives have been or are currently affected by drug use be included in reforming Scotland’s public services to combat drug deaths.

Ending the stigma faced by many who use drugs is also key to tackling what the Scottish Government has called a public health emergency facing the country, the report found.

Strang added: “Stigma partly explains why Scotland hasn’t tackled three deaths a day.

“I mean, if three people a day died on the roads, you can be absolutely guaranteed there would be high-level action, we’d be saying how do we make our roads and vehicles safer?

“It’s a completely unacceptable number. But somehow I think a number of people are dismissive, they’re judgemental, they say: ‘It’s their own fault’.

“I think that attitude seeps through to the way drug policy is developed and implemented.”

The Scottish Government is expected to publish a response to the report by January next year.

Drugs minister Angela Constance recently pledged to take extraordinary measures to ensure alcohol and drugs partnerships across Scotland which had failed to implement addiction treatment standards designed to save lives would face consequences if they did not act rapidly to fix the situation.