Forensic lab fighting Scotland's drug death crisis to close

Scotland’s only toxicologist unit is set to close at the height of the  drug deaths epidemic.

Campaign to save Scotland's only forensic toxicology lab.
Campaign to save Scotland's only forensic toxicology lab.

Unite the union and Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for health and sport, have joined forces saying efforts to fight the drugs death crisis is at significant risk following the University of Glasgow’s forensic toxicology service losing a £1 million contract to provide reports to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

It is estimated the service covers around 90 per cent of drugs related deaths.

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SUBSCRIBE TO THE SCOTSMAN: Read the latest on our websiteIt provides testing and early warning systems, and was due to take part in monitoring for the new heroin-assisted treatment programme to be introduced. The vast majority of drug-related deaths - 1,021 - involved heroin.

Ms Lennon has tabled a motion to the Scottish Parliament calling for the Scottish Government to intervene to save the unit.

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Last year the number of drugs-related deaths in Scotland reached 1,187 according to statistics released by The National Records of Scotland up 27 per cent from 2017.

It is understood other institutions and universities have been approached about potentially providing the service but there is no expertise, knowledge or capacity elsewhere in Scotland with the university being the only institution who can provide this service.

The union and Ms Lennon are warning that loss of the contract means that the necessary toxicology reports provided to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are now in danger of being significantly delayed, or potentially being outsourced outside Scotland.

It is not uncommon for toxicology reports to take up to 6 months in England, while reports in Scotland are provided for in weeks.

Alison MacLean, the union’s regional industrial officer, said the union was representing the technicians in the unit whose jobs have been put at risk by the failure to secure an extension to the Crown Office contract at the university’s toxicology service.

“It is the only department in Scotland with the necessary capacity, knowledge and expertise to provide reports within weeks on drugs related deaths,” Ms MacLean said.

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“It’s an outrage that the workers were given little warning over the potential job losses, and Unite is doing everything we can to ensure this position is reversed.

Ms Lennon MSP said: “Scottish Labour is standing fully behind the workers at Scotland’s only toxicology unit and we wholeheartedly support Unite’s campaign.

“That’s why I have tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament and I invite MSPs from every party to sign it.

“The Scottish Government must intervene to protect jobs and the continuity of this crucial service. For this to be happening when Scotland is experiencing a drugs death emergency is absurd."

“A spokeswoman for the university said: ‘We have undertaken a lengthy negotiation with the Crown Office but have been unable to agree a long-term extension to our current contract for toxicology services.

“The contract for the provision of toxicology services is due to end in early 2020. We are working closely with the Crown Office to ensure minimal disruption from any change to provider. We are providing support and as much information as we can to colleagues who work in this area.”