A gateway into buying illegal drugs in Dundee has been closed with the banning of legal highs, the Scottish Government’s Health Secretary has said.
Shona Robison, the cabinet secretary for health, wellbeing and sport, spoke exclusively to the Tele about the city’s “ongoing” battle against drugs and alcohol, including new legislation which made psychoactive substances completely illegal.
She said there was “no magic bullet” in solving the city’s historic problems with substance abuse.
Ms Robison, who is the MSP for Dundee City East, spoke about the problematic use of hard drugs, such as heroin.
But she also addressed the issue of legal highs, which were banned from sale in the UK at the end of last month.
She said: “The issue of legal highs has been a big, big concern. I think the new legislation will help with that. It’s very early days since the new legislation, but I think there’s an important thing about getting the right message across.
“Removing legal highs and making them illegal I think sends a very strong message that these things are not safe.
“We know that there are other ways of people accessing these things but for a whole generation of young people, who would have found it easy to buy legal highs in shops, they’re not going to use those methods.
“They’re not going to go into illegal drug purchases through dealers but they would have gone in off the street to buy from a shop. I think that’s a really important avenue into drug use that has been closed down and I hope over time we’ll see the benefits of that.”
Speaking on the issue of illegal drugs in Tayside, she said it was a problem “that was not going to go away overnight”, adding: “Every city in Europe and indeed the western world has issues with drug and alcohol abuse.
“People become addicted to drugs and alcohol for very complex reasons. Whether they’ve had difficulties in their life, whether it’s mental health issues or events which have happened to them.
“There is usually an underlying cause, and part of the work with the individual concerned is to try to work out what that might be.
“Some of the success stories that we’ve had often focus on the confidence of the person, other opportunities in life, hope and aspiration, and leading them away from some of the causes of drug and alcohol addiction. There’s not one easy answer and it’s about understanding the person and the reason they started using drugs and alcohol in the first place.
“It’s partly about making sure police have the resources to do their job, it’s partly about making sure the health service has the resources to do their job and the third-sector organisations role as well. Governments across the world would say the same thing — that there’s no easy answer, and it’s about trying to join the dots between all those services. We need to try to keep one step ahead of what’s coming next, and provide a complex range of services to meet a very different range of needs.”
Ms Robison also touched on problem drinking in Dundee, saying she hoped a proposal for minimum unit pricing could help some people identify as problem drinkers.
She added: “Alcohol is a legal product which, if used responsibly, is not harmful. The issue is about the harmful use of alcohol and alcohol abuse.
“The evidence given to us was that price, availability and consumption were very much linked. That’s why minimum unit pricing was our preferred way of dealing with that.
“It targets those high volume, very high strength products, that are sold at a very low price.”