Ministerial statement on Scotland's drugs deaths crisis as pressure mounts

A ministerial statement is to be made on action to action being taken to reduce drugs deaths in Scotland amid mounting pressure from oppositions MSPs.

Minister for Drug Policy Angela Constance

A statement in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday will follow First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s update on Covid restrictions.

Politicians have challenged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to lead the statement, instead of drug policy minister Angela Constance, amid calls for radical action to tackle the problem.

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Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton has written an open letter setting out a series of proposals to tackle the ongoing epidemic.

Statistics released on Friday show that 1,339 people died of drug-related deaths in 2020, an increase of five per cent from 2019.

Mr Cole-Hamilton called for the government to join forces with prosecution authorities and the Lord Advocate to help establish heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces; to establish new specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Commissions to help provide wraparound services and to take a holistic approach to those reported for drug offences and divert people caught in possession of drugs for personal use into education, treatment and recovery, instead of prison.

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He also called for the government to adopt the principle that individuals and families should not have to pay for the care and treatment of those at risk of death from drugs or alcohol.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “It will be said many more times that Scotland is once again the drugs death capital of Europe. The compendium of statistics published on Friday morning are horrifying. But the individual stories behind each and every one of these drug deaths are, without exception, gut wrenching.

“They are stories of lives cut short and potential extinguished. They are stories of opportunities lost. They are stories of families and friends grieving.”

He added: “It is time for Scottish Government to kickstart a new era of drugs policy radicalism. It is time to take radical steps with the prosecution authorities and the Lord Advocate to help establish heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Despite Scotland having the same drug laws as the rest of the country we have three and a half times the rate of drug deaths. And we know that it is those from the most deprived areas who are at the greatest risk. It is only right that the First Minister recognises the scale of the crisis and leads for the government on this issue tomorrow.

“The First Minister should put all her political energy into solving this crisis - after 15 years in Government it is a test she must pass. And if she fails to make progress she should make way for someone who will.”

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross said: “While it’s right that we have an urgent statement on the drug deaths crisis, given the scale of this tragedy, the First Minister has to answer directly for her government’s fatal inaction and apparent failure to save lives.

“When a crisis reaches the level of being Scotland’s shame, hiding is not an option.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Minister for Drugs Policy has already written to the Presiding Officer making clear that she stands ready to respond to any parliamentary or committee requests in relation to drug deaths.

“We recognise that this is clearly our other public health emergency. The 2020 drug death figures are a stark reminder of the need to do more to save and improve lives. We want to see more people able to access the treatment that is right for them at the time they want it. That means on the same day in most cases. And it means a wider range of treatment offers, including residential rehabilitation, must be available everywhere at any given time.”

She added: “That is why we are determined to see the implementation of the Medication Assisted Treating (MAT) standards by April. These standards are not new, but this is the first time we have offered dedicated funding, expert support and published clearly what people should be expecting and demanding from local services.

“We are also making additional funding available for residential rehabilitation placements - £100 million over the next five years - as part of an extra £250 million investment in total during this Parliament.”

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