Minister says drug death report provides 'bold blueprint of what needs to be done' as funding to tackle drugs death named 'woefully inadequate'

Scotland’s drug police minister has re-iterated her commitment to drug consumption rooms after a scathing report criticises the Scottish Government’s handling of the drug death crisis.
Drugs policy minister Angela Constance.Drugs policy minister Angela Constance.
Drugs policy minister Angela Constance.

The Drug Deaths Taskforce published its final report after three years of work examining how to deal with Scotland’s drug death crisis.

It makes 20 recommendations and calls for 139 specific actions to be taken by the Scottish and UK Governments as well as other organisations.

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Aimed at tackling the nation’s drug-related deaths, which is currently the highest rate in Europe, the report states the approach to drugs should move away from punishment towards care.

The drugs death taskforce was set up in 2019 after Scotland recorded more than 1,000 drug-related deaths a year for the first time. In 2020, 1,339 died from a drug overdose.

The report criticises the Scottish Government Drug and alcohol service funding as "woefully inadequate" in relation to demand as it represents just 0.8% of the health and sport budget.

David Strang, the taskforce chairman, also called the deadline to meet new treatment standards this year "unrealistic” as he said this should be pushed back to 2024.

The report recommends fully implementing new Medical Assisted Treatment (MAT) standards - relating to opioidreplacement drugs like methadone - across Scotland within two years, developing an extensive Naloxone network and creating better outreach after non-fatal overdoses.

Angela Constance, Scotland’s Drug Policy Minister, said the report delivered a “bold blueprint of what needs to be done” to save and improve lives.

Ms Constance said: “Progress around the MAT standards wasn't good enough and fast enough so that’s why for the first time ever we have used a ministerial direction under legislation to ensure that every integrated joint board, every health board and every local authority at a very senior level sign off improvement plans."

However, AnneMarie Ward said the report was " a farce" and "a rehashing of the old ideas that got us into this mess”.

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The chief executive of Favor UK, which advocates for those suffering from addiction, said: “I have seen millions of pounds pouring into the field but it’s not going towards treatment.“It’s going towards the same quangos and favoured bodies, who will churn out research about how we should reduce stigma and how we should talk about drug issues. And it will do nothing to cut drug deaths.

“What we need is to get more people into treatment and keep them there until they are well. That might mean rehab or it might mean harm reduction but we need to respect the rights of patients with alcohol or other drug issues and we need far more responsibility & accountability to fall on those who are failing year after year.“The biggest stigma we have right now is how we are seen as just ‘junkies’ and ‘alkies’ who are allowed to die and no-one ever gets held to account for failing to help us for two reasons - 1. The majority of us from our poorest communities and 2. We dont vote so the politicians can get away with their never ending game of political football.”

Asked by The Scotsman if she has spoken to people impacted by the crisis, Ms Constance said she has had “extensive engagement” with people with real life experience as she said she will engage with colleagues over drug service funding in advance of the Scottish Government budget.

“Yesterday, I met with a mother who has struggled to get treatment for mental health needs.

"She certainly feels let down by society, she certainly wants the Scottish Government to be doing more and I’m committed to doing more.

"This is about person-centred care and enabling people to access all the services and resources they are entitled to.”

Safe consumption rooms will be considered by the Crown Office after the Scottish Government submitted a proposition built with partners in Glasgow.

Angela Constance, Scotland’s Drug Policy Minister said: “It will be for the Crown Office and, ultimately, the the Lord Advocate to say whether safe drug consumption facilities can be delivered within the existing legal framework of Scotland.

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"I am committed to safer drug consumption facilities. The evidence across the world shows that safer drug consumption facilities work. They are not a silver bullet but they are opportunity to save lives.”

The minister pointed to a new drug consumption facility in New York which “in the first three weeks of opening, has prevented 57 overdoses”.

Ms Constance said: “My focus has always been on implementing what works so we need to invest in services and reform services and we need to be brace about following the evidence.

"We are talking about individuals here so different people will need different types of support at different times.

"This is a public health emergency and we are trying to mend broken lives.”

Ms Constance said the National Care service gives Scotland “huge opportunities” and the minister said she was “very keen” to ensure drug and alcohol services are a part of this.

The Minister said: “People are more than their drug and alchohol problems so the National Care Service gives us huge opportunities to start delivering the right treatment and right support at the right time.”

Dundee, a city particularly affected by drug deaths in Scotland, will consider other additional "life-saving” services as well as consumption rooms, according to the minister.

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The minister said she would like to see both Dundee Commission reports implemented at a local level as she said Dundee is an area she takes “close interest in”.

The taskforce’s chairman, former chief constable David Strang said: “Every day in Scotland three people die of a drug overdose and that is just a shocking statistic.

“Each death is a tragedy obviously for the individual, but for their loved ones, for their families, for their communities, and for the whole of Scotland.”

Mr Strang said the report was a “message of hope”, adding: “Addiction is not a crime. You can’t punish people out of addiction.”

While the report calls for changes in UK drugs law, he said he believed the issue was too urgent to wait for this to take place.

Mr Strang said: “We believe that safer drug consumption facilities can be implemented now under the current legislation.

“We’ve worked closely with the Crown Office, the Lord Advocate, in trying to look at how can safer drug consumption facilities be implemented under the current legislation.”

Safe consumption facilities are not a “magic solution” to addiction, he said, but could help guide people into treatment.

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Work on the first consumption rooms should begin soon, Mr Strang said, calling for an action plan from the Scottish Government within six months.

Other recommended legal changes include tightening equalities law to remove “any discriminatory separation between drug dependency and other health conditions.”

The report says “significant cultural change” is needed to reduce stigma and discrimination, calling for more action to change attitudes.

Mr Strang said the taskforce considered the issue of drug decriminalisation but felt it would be a “distraction” from the main topics they wanted to cover.



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