New services announced to tackle drugs deaths in Scotland

A series of new initiatives to tackle Scotland’s drugs deaths crisis have been announced by the Scottish Government.

In a Holyrood debate on tackling Scotland’s drugs deaths on Thursday, drugs policy minister Angela Constance announced measures paid for by £50 million already pledged to address drugs deaths this year.

An extra £14.4m will go to frontline services, while £13.3m will be spent on Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, including improving services for children and families.

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Some £1.5m will be allocated to public health surveillance, evaluation and research, while £1m will support third-sector initiatives and £1m will establish a Lived and Living Experience forum.

Angela Constance, Minister for Drugs PolicyAngela Constance, Minister for Drugs Policy
Angela Constance, Minister for Drugs Policy

The Scottish Government will also launch a £800,000 campaign to tackle the stigma around drug use.

It comes on top of £18m set aside to improve drugs services, meaning the full £50m has now been allocated.

Ms Constance said: “This announcement sets out how the £50m additional funding announced for this year will be spent on improving and saving lives and it is vital that those working on the front-line have the necessary resources to meet the needs of drug users who seek help and their families.”

During a debate on the issue on Thursday, MSPs from across the chamber called for unity and working together to help solve the crisis.

Some 1,264 drug-related deaths were recorded in 2019 by National Records of Scotland – a 6 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest number since records began in 1996.

The Scottish Government will increase the availability of residential rehab programmes, Ms Constance said, and focus on same-day treatment and support for families and children.

Funding will also go towards implementation of new Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) standards in Scotland, which Ms Constance told MSPs would pave the way for new forms of treatment.

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These include buprenorphine, an alternative to methadone that is not associated with overdoses, has less of an effect on clear thinking, and needs only a weekly or monthly injection, reducing possible stigma during daily pharmacy visits, she said.

The Scottish Government has called for reform of the UK-wide Misuse of Drugs Act, now 50 years old.

This was supported by other parties, with Scottish Labour MSP Claire Baker labelling the act “out of touch and out of time”.

Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton noted the importance of services for children of those using drugs during pregnancy, and the influence of traumatic childhood experiences such as these in the children growing up to use drugs themselves.

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Ms Constance said she “will not be ignored" by the UK Government in tackling drugs deaths.

"I want to assure the Conservative benches that I work collaboratively with everyone, and that includes the UK Government, but I'm not going to be ignored,” she said.

"I'm not going to stand by and allow the UK Government to ignore our communities, or indeed the will of this Parliament, and I'm not going to ignore the importance of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

"It is time for a grown-up debate, based on the growing evidence that the Misuse of Drugs Act is incompatible with a public health approach to tackling our drugs deaths crisis.”

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