Scots drugs strategy ten years out of date, say MSPs

Scotland's failure to tackle problem drug use has come under fire from MSPs today with a warning that the Scottish Government's current approach is ten years old and out of touch with the current situation.
The number of acute drug-related stays in hospitals has increased. Picture: contributedThe number of acute drug-related stays in hospitals has increased. Picture: contributed
The number of acute drug-related stays in hospitals has increased. Picture: contributed

Serious drugs mis-use in Scotland is the worst in Europe and Holyrood’s health committee raises concerns over a lack of funding to tackle the issue,which costs the NHS £3.5 billion a year.

Ministers are now being urged to bring forward a new national strategy in a report today which also raises concern about shortcomings in NHS efforts to prevent a range of illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and cancer. Instead, too much focus is on treating conditions at an early stage or stopping them from getting worse.

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The flagship “Road to Recovery” national drugs strategy was published by the Scottish Government in 2008. And although adult drug misuse has been falling across the board, problem drug use appears to be growing.

The number of “acute” drug-related stays in hospitals has increased, with most of this down to opiods – drugs similar to heroin. There were also 3,860 patients treated in hospital for drugs use for the first time in 2015/16 – up by 50 per cent in a decade.

Former public health minister Aileen Campbell, in a letter to the committee earlier this year, accepted that services in Scotland are not meeting the “wide range of complex health and social needs”. It came after the committee called for a new “far-reaching and extensive” national drugs strategy to deliver real change.

But today’s report states: “It remains disappointing that despite this recognition and many months of engagement no government proposals are forthcoming.

“We remind the government the existing strategy is over ten years old and does not reflect changes in drug culture over that period.”

Alcohol and Drug partnerships (APDs) were established in 2010 to address prevention, but their funding has been cut over the past two years, and this was raised as an issue with MSPs during their evidence sessions.

“We remain concerned at the reported level of spending in this area,” the report adds.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said ministers set out their public health priorities in June.

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She added: “The Scottish Government has a long history of taking action to improve public health.

“Many of the bold steps we have taken in recent years have been followed by countries around the world, including banning smoking in public places, introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol and the Daily Mile for children now in two thirds of primary schools.”