Suspected drug death toll in Scotland hit over 550 in last six months

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The number of suspected deaths through drugs In Scotland has hit 550 over the last six months.

Police figures provided to PA Scotland show 551 suspected deaths between April 1 and September 27 this year.

A mother holds a placard at the event. Drug death gathering  held in Glasgow City Centre for International Overdose Awareness Day. Picture: John Devlin

A mother holds a placard at the event. Drug death gathering held in Glasgow City Centre for International Overdose Awareness Day. Picture: John Devlin

The figures come just months after Scotland was found to have the highest death rate in the world when it was found 1,187 people died in 2018.

The statistics caused a public outcry, with some branding Scotland's drug issue a "crisis".

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick made an impassioned plea to Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee in July for devolved powers over drug laws in a bid to halt the rise, which saw the number of deaths soar from 934 in 2017.

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The Scottish Government has also set up a drug deaths task force, headed by Stirling University Professor Catriona Matheson, to tackle what a spokesman called an "emergency".

During their conference in Aberdeen on Sunday, the SNP formally supported the decriminalisation of drug possession, calling for the devolution of powers from the UK Government.

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon has been outspoken on the need for action on drug deaths, calling on the Scottish Government to do more to protect drug users.

She said: "In 2018 drug related deaths in Scotland reached an all time high and in response the Scottish Government promised it was doing everything possible to reduce this.

"Reports that 551 people have lost their lives to drugs across Scotland in recent months is tragic and is a worrying sign that no progress is being made.

"Cuts to alcohol and drug services by the Scottish Government have had devastating consequences and fragmented decision-making is causing vulnerable people to fall through the gaps.

"These deaths were preventable.

"The Scottish Government must back up its promises with action.

"The next UK Labour government will establish a Royal Commission to independently review all drugs legislation and policies but we will continue to work with others to ensure that people get the help they need now."

"Bold action"

A spokesman for the Scottish Government outlined what was being done at Holyrood to solve the problem and repeated calls for powers to be devolved.

He said: "We have been absolutely clear what Scotland faces in terms of drug-related deaths is an emergency.

"We have already taken - and will continue to take - bold action to address this crisis, including setting up a dedicated drug death task force to examine the main causes of drug deaths, promote action to improve the health outcomes for people who use drugs, and advise on further changes in practice, or in the law, which could help save lives.

"As outlined in our Programme for Government 2019-20, we have committed a further £20 million over two years to support the work of this task force and to ensure the provision and quality of drug and alcohol treatment services are further improved to meet the range of complex health and social care needs of those most at risk.

"However, the ability to enact emergency powers is currently reserved to the UK Government. If they will not take action on this issue, we believe these powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament."

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said: "We are committed to reducing the tragic impact of drugs on individuals, families and communities in Scotland.

"The reasons behind substance misuse are complex. A strong partnership approach is required if we are to provide long-term, sustainable solutions and we are working with partners to support the Scottish Government's new drug deaths task force.

"While enforcement action alone is not enough, we will continue to target drug dealers through local and national intelligence gathering as well as operational activity."