Depicting Scottish drugs policy and practice over a thirty year period to 2011 the authors use Scotland as a case study of how modern drugs policy evolved in a small country with liberal traditions and the highest rates of substance use problems in Europe. Building on the authors' knowledge and experience of Scottish policy and practice, and existing documentation about Scottish policy, the study also draws on interviews with some key stakeholders who have worked to shape modern Scottish policies and practices. Scottish drugs policy makes a particularly interesting case study because Scotland is small enough, with fewer than six million people, to be comprehended in its full complexity. Scottish policy can been seen either as a failure, since illicit drugs have spread everywhere in Scotland despite the country's lack of natural illicit drug resources, or as a success, as anti-drug policies have become relatively humane and are oriented towards helping people with substance use problems, rather than merely trying to eradicate drug use. The book will be of interest to those working against drugs in Scotland and of wider interest to those involved in formulating or assessing drugs policies elsewhere.


He ate until he was full, drank seven
pitchers of the beer, his heart grew light,
his face glowed and he sang out with joy.
He had his hair cut, he washed, he rubbed
sweet oil into his skin, and became
fully human.

(Gilgamesh, trans. Mitchell, 2005, p. 86)

If, in the oldest known work of literature, beer is integral to making a savage ‘fully human’, how much more engrained could intoxication be into human civilisation? Civilisations have repeatedly received new intoxicants with trepidation and disgust followed by avid enthusiasm, while lawmakers, healers and moralists have worried about their harmful effects and tried to control or ban them (Barr, 1995; Standage, 2007).

This book is not about drugs in their entirety. For good or bad, Scottish policy and practice regarding drugs have mostly been about the problematic use of hard drugs, often by injection, and this is the book’s main focus. The book describes how concerns about drug problems arose, and how services and policies have evolved to address problems over three decades, from 1980 to 2010. As well as citing relevant publications we have drawn on our experience and knowledge of the drug scene in Scotland, which dates back to the 1980s.

The book suggests that through necessity Scotland has become relatively good at managing problem drug users effectively and reasonably compassionately, but that it has been less good at managing drugs in the bigger picture. As we will see, drugs ‘prevention’ remains largely incoherent: there is too little said or done about drug problems that do not concern hard drugs or injecting; scientifically obvious connections between alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs have be acknowledged only reluctantly; and hesitancy remains about accepting the message of Gilgamesh. Whether we like it or not, intoxication is integral to humankind.

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