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27 November 2018, 06:38
Tories have set out plans for a major overhaul of drugs services, including proposals which could see first time offenders escape a criminal record.
In addition to the establishment of local commissions, which could order first time drugs offenders into treatment if they opt to avoid prosecution, the Conservatives want personalised "life plans" to be drawn up for everyone who comes forward for help, and reviews of all drugs deaths.
Figures published earlier this year revealed there were a record 934 drugs related deaths in Scotland in 2017 - more than double the total from 2007.
With the country facing a "drugs crisis", Scottish Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs insisted "fresh thinking and a new national approach is critical".
The Tories believe the changes could halve the number of drug deaths within five years, and have also set the target of increasing the number of addicts in treatment from 40% to 60%.
Mr Briggs stated: "As many as 1,000 Scots are expected to die from drug related deaths this year alone.
"Drugs wreck families, destroy lives and are holding back some of our poorest communities.
"The SNP Government's efforts to reduce drug misuse have failed and the crisis is getting worse.
"The Scottish Conservative plan is based on a simple premise: users don't need a drugs plan to help them manage their addiction, they need a life plan to help them end their addiction."
Mr Briggs insisted every drug user "can be brought off drugs and supported back to a functioning lifestyle".
He added: "At the centre of our plan is a call to give every problem drug user in Scotland a personalised Life Plan to support and sustain their transition from addiction back to a functioning life.
"We also believe we will have most impact by getting in early. So our strategy today sets out radical steps to deal with first time drug offenders - to ensure their first time is also their last time.
"It would be their choice - take responsibility for yourself and your actions, and you get a second chance and avoid a criminal record. Offend again, and you can expect to feel the full force of the law."
Scottish Tories want a pilot of the local commission system, which is already operating in Durham, to be established.
First offenders would then be given the choice of having a criminal record or being referred to a local commission, which would have the power to prescribe treatment if necessary.
While drug users could avoid a criminal record in the first instance, records of this would be kept so if they went on to reoffend, it could be treated as an aggravating factor by the courts.
To help existing addicts, the Tory proposals state: "Users don't need a drugs plan to help them manage their addiction, they need a life plan to help them end their addiction."
As part of this they say every addict should be given a "Life Plan" - setting out an approach to getting them off drugs, which would be monitored by GPs and pharmacists.
This would be tied to a redesign of drug and alcohol services, which would see a greater focus on prevention.
The Tories also want to see an independent review of the methadone programme, which sees addicts given the replacement drug on a daily basis.
But it was involved in almost half of all drug related deaths in 2017, the Tories noted.
Their policy called for a "fundamental change in services and models of care for drug addicts in Scotland potentially redirecting resources to rehabilitation, recovery and abstinence".
To help with this they said there must be a "dramatic expansion of rehabilitation services to deliver additional capacity and placements" - including fast track places for problem drug users coming forward for help for the first time.
They also said reviews of all drugs related deaths were needed to help "understand exactly where the system has failed in these cases", arguing such a move would "look at answering the question as why Scotland is so unique when it comes to drug deaths".
Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: "We have provided further funding to help reduce the harms caused by alcohol and drugs, bringing the total to more than £70 million this financial year. And over the past decade we have invested some £746 million to tackle problem alcohol and drug use.
"We are willing to back innovative, evidence-based approaches that can make a real difference, as demonstrated by our support for Glasgow's proposals to introduce a safer medically supervised drug consumption facility, and offer heroin assisted treatment.
"We call on all political parties in Scotland to join us, and all other parties in Scotland, in demanding that the UK Government takes a public health approach and support Glasgow's proposals which will save lives."