Gina Davidson: A 'blind eye' can no longer be the First Minister's attitude on addiction

The drugs deaths statistics were a grim end to last week, but the reverberations of their impact and what they mean about Scotland and the actions taken by the Scottish Government to tackle health inequalities are only just beginning to be felt.

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The new record death toll had been predicted. Indeed, the rising numbers of lives lost to drug addiction, “street valium” in particular, has long been broadcast with the government told emphatically that a decision to cut funding to rehabilitation beds and support groups, would result in such a tragic end.

It has come to pass, and there is no mood for Nicola Sturgeon to be let off the hook one by those who have lost loved ones, or by the charities which support them, and certainly not by opposition politicians.

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Demands are being made for her to make a statement when parliament reconvenes, briefly, on Tuesday; and not just a statement expressing regret and determination to do better, but one which will lay out how she and her government plan to stop the deaths and remove Scotland from first place in a European league table of shame.

It’s a strange place for the SNP leader to find herself in: being lambasted by the Conservatives for her lack of action on a matter in which there are few votes, and certainly not from normal Tory voters. For Scottish Labour, attacking on health inequalities is more traditional ground, and the party has been at pains to point out the lack of support for addiction – both drug and alcohol – for years, pleas falling on deaf ears (joining Nicola Sturgeon's already-admitted “blind eye” on this subject).

Of course action has begun – when the 2019 figures were published, Nicola Sturgeon sacked her public health minister, instated a drugs policy minister, and announced £250m in funding. Naloxone, a heroin over-dose reversal drug, is also now being rolled out for use by paramedics and others, though that has taken 15 years to get started as permission was first given by a previous Labour administration in 2006.

Covid has rightly taken up most of the First Minister’s time recently, but with the vaccination programme in full flow, there is no longer an excuse not to attend to Scotland’s other epidemic and the inequalities that drive it.

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