FMQs: Humza Yousaf 'devastated' at rise in suspected Scotland drug deaths, but stands by rehab bed plans

Humza Yousaf has insisted his pledge to increase drug rehab beds remains on track.

Humza Yousaf said he was “devastated” after suspected drug deaths in Scotland soared by 10 per cent, as the First Minister defended his Government’s plans for rehab beds.

Statistics released by Police Scotland this week showed there were 1,197 suspected drug deaths last year. This was a 10 per cent spike (105 more deaths) from the same period of 2022 when there were 1,092 suspected drug-related deaths.

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Scotland remains the drug deaths capital of Europe, with the statistics a blow to progress after SNP ministers insisted the strategy was “turning a corner” after last year’s figures revealed an improvement.

First Minister Humza Yousaf at FMQs (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)First Minister Humza Yousaf at FMQs (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
First Minister Humza Yousaf at FMQs (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross pressed Mr Yousaf at First Minister’s Questions over the rise in suspected drug deaths.

Mr Yousaf said: “I am devastated to see that rise, particularly as we saw and witnessed some progress in the year before for suspected drug deaths. This rise is deeply disheartening, but what it will only serve to do, from the Government’s perspective, is ensure that we continue to rededicate ourselves to tackling one of the most insidious challenges and problems that we face in our society.”

Mr Ross claimed “the addictions crisis in Scotland is out of control”.

He said: “The SNP promised to create hundreds of new rehab beds. They’ve only managed just over 30. Since the SNP came to power, drug deaths have doubled. They are the worst in Europe and new figures show deaths are increasing again.

“Scotland’s shame has not gone away. Humza Yousaf wants to dodge responsibility. He’s using the same excuses as Nicola Sturgeon and he’s making all the same mistakes as she did.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also pressed the First Minister over drug deaths, pointing out that since the Scottish Government “declared a drugs death emergency” more than four years ago, “over 5,200 lives have been lost in drug-related deaths”.

Mr Sarwar said: “In 2022, the Government said it would establish drug checking facilities. But two years on no facilities are open and not a single licence application has been made.”

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The Labour leader warned that “incompetence has consequences”. He added: “Across Scotland, families are grieving loved ones whose deaths were preventable, but this SNP Government has failed on every promise it has made.”

The First Minister stressed “the suggestion that we are cutting residential rehab beds is simply not true”.

He said: “We are not cutting beds. Under the Scottish Government we have invested £38 million in expanding capacity in residential rehab.”

Mr Yousaf told MSPs that “32 of these beds are operational” and “we have another 38 in the pipeline just over the next few months”. “We believe that we are absolutely on track to meet our commitment on increasing overall residential rehab capacity from 425 to 650 by 2026,” he said.

A spokesperson for the First Minister said “the figures do fluctuate”, adding the overall aim was “getting the figures to come down on a consistent basis”.

He said Scotland’s drug death figures were “a very serious ongoing problem” and pointed to the “changing nature” of the issue, highlighting synthetic drugs. Asked if the Scottish Government’s plan to tackle drug deaths was working, the FM’s spokesperson said that “it’s delivering”.



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