This week saw Scotland top the European charts in a truly shameful way. It was revealed by the National Records of Scotland that we have more drug deaths per capita than any other country in Europe.
Just let that sink in. More people die from drugs in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe. There were 1,187 drug-deaths in 2018, an increase of 27 per cent in just one year. Surely, we cannot let this continue.
The latest estimates show that Scotland has about 60,000 “problem drug users”. It’s a terrible phrase but it’s the one we’re working with. That’s 1.6 per cent of the adult population, again considerably higher than the rest of the UK. Scotland’s drug-related death rate is 218 per million of the population. To put that in context, it’s three times higher than that of the UK as a whole.
There have been accusations of under reporting in some European nations and the figures for Greece were not even included, but that’s all just pendantry given the scale of the drugs emergency we’re faced with.
Most of these drug-related deaths are caused by people abusing more than one substance, with opiates such as heroin and methadone implicated in the vast majority of deaths. In practice that means few people die because they took heroin alone. They die because they’ve mixed it with something else or had another drug in their system when they were coming up or down. That drug, by the way, could as easily be alcohol as anything illegal. Regardless, it’s a toxic and deathly cocktail.
Glasgow and Dundee have higher drug death rates than the capital, but that’s hardly cause for celebration when Edinburgh’s still stands considerably higher than the UK average. It’s not surprising but still utterly depressing that you’re 17 times more likely to die from a drug-related death in the poorest bits of the country than in the wealthiest. Taking drugs might be popular in high-flying white-collar banking jobs, but it’s not killing people at anything like the rate it is in deprived communities. That’s communities deprived of opportunities, chances and jobs. The same areas where council cuts and austerity policies bite harder than a winter wind – removing the last vestiges of hope.
This is truly a disgraceful state of affairs and somehow our politicians (yes, I know, I used to be one just a matter of days ago) have managed to make it even more dismal by dividing it down constitutional lines.
The Scottish Government – in power in Scotland for over a decade and with sole authority for health and policing – cite Westminster as the real culprits of this situation and are calling for the devolution of drug legislation to Holyrood. The SNP believes this has to be devolved now in order for Supervised Drug Consumption Facilities to be set up in Scotland.
On the other side of the argument, commentators have reminded the Scottish Government that drug rehab services are devolved and, according to the Scottish Drugs Forum, Safe Consumption Room Immunity policy is also devolved to Holyrood. Decriminalisation of drugs is reserved but this is not something the SNP wants to change, for now. The considerable cuts by the Scottish Government to Alcohol and Drug Partnerships since 2015 have also been called into question.
As usual, there is now a stooshie about what Government really holds the levers to cut drug deaths in Scotland when the truth is they both do. Working together is what the public expect. It’s also our only hope. Too many people are dying for this to carry on. A serious response is needed and instead of constitutional point-scoring, maybe a bit of mutual mea culpa would be welcome. Holyrood should admit their cuts haven’t helped and Westminster should admit it’s getting in the way of solutions. Everyone else should be strong enough and brave enough to admit that we’re letting some of the most vulnerable citizens of this country down and they’ve paid the ultimate price.