Nicola Sturgeon unveils £250m ‘national mission’ to tackle drugs deaths

Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled a £250 million “national mission” to tackle soaring drugs deaths in Scotland with an expansion of residential places to be at the heart of the new strategy.
Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled drugs deaths strategyNicola Sturgeon has unveiled drugs deaths strategy
Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled drugs deaths strategy

The First Minister admitted that Scots who died from addiction have been "failed" by the system as she set out a raft of measures at Holyrood today aimed at reversing rising fatalities in recent years which has left the country with the the worst record in Europe.

There were 1,264 drugs deaths in Scotland in 2019, the equivalent of three a day and the worst since records began.

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"All of these people and people who have died in years gone by were in some way failed by us," Ms Sturgeon told MSPs.

"The responsibility for that rests first and foremost with Government."

She added: "I believe that if we had the will, we can and we will find the ways to stop this happening. But doing so requires a national mission to end what is currently a national disgrace.

"It is a reasonable criticism to say that the Government should have done more earlier and I accept that - but I am determined that we will provide this national mission with the leadership, focus and resources it needs."

An immediate £5 million will be provided until the end of March to help boost drugs services in Scotland, with an additional £50 million a year to services over the next five years, covering community based interventions and an expansion off residential rehabilitation.

A "significant proportion" of the extra cash will go to alcohol and drugs partnerships, with much of it also flowing to grass roots organisations.

There currently only a bout 365 rehabilitation beds in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon added, across 18 facilities in Scotland. This can be an “effective way” of helping addiction, but access is too restricted.

Part of the immediate £5 million in the remaining weeks of this year will fund more rehabilitation, while £100 million will be allocated over the next five years on residential rehabilitation and “associated aftercare.”

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The First Minister said the new strategy will also seek to overcome the split between "harm reduction" and "recovery" in the drugs debate, insisting both are "vital."

Fast and appropriate access to treatment, residential rehabilitation, a more "joined-up" approach which support people living with addiction and recognition to the key role played by third sector organisations will be at the heart of the new policy.

The Scottish Government backs the introduction of safe consumption rooms, but this has been blocked by Westminster which controls drugs policy.

But Ms Sturgeon said today: "We are continuing to explore the legal barriers which restrict us in this respect and while I cannot report on our conclusions of that today, it is an issue I know Parliament will return to."

Heroin-assisted treatment, currently only available in Glasgow, is to be rolled out across the country.

Only half of Scots most at risk from death are currently accessing treatment and Ms Sturgeon pledged to change this so users have access to support which "works best for them".

Professor Angela Thomas, acting president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, described the announcement as a “ step in the right direction.”

But she added: “ Scotland’s drug deaths crisis is complex and these policies alone won’t solve the problem.

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“The path to recovery for individuals is often long and unpredictable – people who use drugs need a whole range of support, and they need joined up services which can cater for their needs.

“While an increase in rehab beds is welcome, consideration must be given to how services can help people after they have left rehab, or after they have been discharged from hospital after an overdose.”

Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs welcomed the First Ministers announcement on rehabilitation programmes in Scotland after the Tories had previously called for this.

“This money will undoubtedly benefit people who have become addicted to drugs and want to get themselves back on track,” he said.

“It will take time to see the benefits of this funding for drug addicts, because drug deaths are reported for previous years, but it is important we stay committed to supporting addicts in their recovery.

“Historic cuts to rehabilitation programmes mean that families across Scotland will not have had this support available and I am pleased the First Minister agreed to look into setting up a Families Fund, for families affected by drugs in Scotland.”

Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie challenged Ms Sturgeon over cuts to Alcohol and Drug partnerships during her time as First Minister.

“It is tragic that it has come to this, and I welcome her acknowledgement that more needed to be done beforehand,” Ms Baillie said.

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“As Health Secretary she presided over the Road to Recovery strategy which the Scottish Drugs Forum described as a significant contributory factor to our present situation. And when the Scottish Government cut the budgets of Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships they were warned that it would lead to more deaths: now there are 1200 deaths in a single year.

“So, I very much welcome the additional funding. The existing £20m a year for additional treatment and support services runs out in 2021.”

Greens justice spokesman John Finnie said urgent action is needed on the issue.

“It is pleasing to see the importance of community based interventions being recognised by government, and the need to listen to those with experience of drug use,” he said.“It’s also essential that every avenue is explored to tackle this crisis, so it’s vital that the Lord Advocate uses his authority to exempt lifesaving services such as safe drug consumption rooms from prosecution.”

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