An MSP has called for the removal of stigma against people seeking help for addiction as she revealed her father died from alcohol abuse.
In an emotionally-charged contribution to First Minister’s Questions, Monica Lennon brought up the “significant” rise in drug and alcohol deaths in Scotland in the past year.
Official statistics show drug deaths in Scotland rose by 23% to 867 last year, the highest number on record, while alcohol-related deaths rose 10% to 1,265.
Ms Lennon was close to tears as she said: “Living with addiction is not easy to speak about but this has to change, as recovery and support services can’t help people if they feel too ashamed to access them.
“Too often, families only break their silence about drug or alcohol harm after they have buried their loved ones. I know because two years ago my dad died as a result of alcohol harm.
“In 2016 Scotland reached an unacceptable 10-year peak, with 2,132 people dying as a result of alcohol and drugs misuse.
“We have a long way to go. Can I ask the First Minister to join me in sending a message to everyone in Scotland affected by drug or alcohol harm, that they matter, they they are not to blame and that they are deserving of support.”
The First Minister praised her “courage” for raising the issue and the Labour MSP was applauded by all parties.
Nicola Sturgeon said: “Monica Lennon is absolutely right, first of all we must see those who suffer from addiction as human beings first and foremost.”
She said the government’s new drug strategy is based on treating addiction “from a public health perspective” and said the government planned to invest a further £20 million in tackling drug and alcohol abuse.
Ms Sturgeon added: “We must make sure, and this is why we have set out plans for additional funding, that when people do find the courage to come forward and seek help, that help is there for them.”
She said the rise in drug deaths was due to older, long-term users and has been linked to the austerity policies in the 1980s.