Figures published on Friday are expected to reveal that Scotland has suffered more than 10,000 drugs deaths in the last 14 years, with another record number of people dying in 2020.
Currently Scotland has the worst drugs deaths toll in Europe, and the 2019 figure of 1,264 lives lost – three-and-a-half times more than in England and Wales – is expected to have been surpassed during the pandemic.
Scotland’s health secretary Humza Yousaf admitted the new drug death statistics would be “challenging” and the issue was a “national crisis, a national emergency”.
However, his government has been pressed to back a Right to Recovery Bill being brought to Holyrood by the Scottish Conservatives – a pledge made by Mr Ross during the Holyrood election campaign after Nicola Sturgeon was forced to admit she had taken her “eye off the ball” on drugs deaths.
The legislation would give people the right to the addiction treatment they need, including a residential rehabilitation place, and has the backing of seven drug campaign organisations, including FAVOR Scotland, The Maxie Richards Foundation, Jericho House, Phoenix Futures, Sisco, Abbey Care and Recovery Enterprises. Services would also be put in place for the families of those struggling with addiction.
While new drugs minister Angela Constance has said the Conservatives should publish the draft Bill and she would give it “proper consideration to see if it will do what is claimed”, FAVOR Scotland said it had been told privately by some SNP MSPs they will support the legislation.
FAVOR Scotland chief executive Annemarie Ward said: “Behind Friday’s statistics, which we are sure will be as shocking as previous years, lie thousands of distraught families and communities in pieces.
“The drug crisis will be Scotland’s shame until the government is brave enough to do what is necessary.
“Just now, the Scottish Government is not acting quickly enough to tackle the drug death crisis on our streets. They are doing just enough to limit the damage, not to solve the crisis.”
She added: “We have developed a Right to Recovery Bill that is about equality and justice for all. It should not be controversial to demand that everyone gets the treatment they need.
“This Bill will have widespread cross-party support when it comes forward. SNP MSPs have privately told us they will back the Bill and several prominent Labour MSPs have publicly voiced support for it.
“The Right to Recovery Bill is necessary because at the moment, the same leadership is presiding over this catastrophic tragedy who were in charge when drug deaths spiralled out of control.
"There is no desire for radical change, or even for accountability, in Scotland’s broken treatment system. Progress is far too slow.
“The government’s new standards are not powerful enough to bring about the change we need to tackle this crisis. To save more lives, we need enforceable rights enshrined in law, so that nobody can be denied treatment again.”
Scotland’s death toll has risen steadily since 2007 to a total of 9,324 in 2019, while the Scottish Government cut £47 million from the funding of drugs and alcohol addiction services between 2015 and 2019.
Mr Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, and his health spokesperson Annie Wells are expected to attend a drug death memorial event in Glasgow on Friday, organised by FAVOR, after the latest drug-related death statistics are released.
Ms Wells said: “Scotland’s drug deaths crisis is one of our most stark challenges. Communities like mine are being devastated year after year, with very few signs that the situation on the ground is improving.
“Nicola Sturgeon has admitted she ‘took her eye off the ball’ and drug deaths spiralled. But the SNP Government is still failing to take the drastic action necessary to sort this crisis.
“Our Right to Recovery Bill has been developed with frontline experts and we are encouraged that it is gaining such widespread support. We now need the SNP Government to stop stalling and support this Bill. Every delay costs lives.
“We have waited years for change, but the extra funding we demanded and the new standards in force are not cutting it. The only way to guarantee everyone gets the treatment they need is to make it enforceable in law.”
Ms Sturgeon, who has said the crisis is a “national disgrace”, has already pledged £250 million to tackle drugs deaths over the course of this parliamentary term.
Speaking during the opening of a new eye centre at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, Mr Yousaf said he would not pre-empt the statistics, but added: “I suspect that we’ll see another challenging year.
“Scotland’s challenge around drug deaths, which is a national crisis, a national emergency – that’s why we call it our national mission to deal with our drugs death issue – is not going to be overcome within a short period of time.”
Mr Yousaf said Ms Constance was engaging with stakeholders, including the UK Government, to “try to change the situation”, adding: “But it will be, I’m sure, another set of challenging statistics.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton urged the government to be more radical on its drugs policy.
Despite criminal drugs laws being reserved to Westminster, he also urged the Scottish Government to “take radical steps” with Police Scotland and the new Lord Advocate “to help establish heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces”.
Mr Cole-Hamilton also called for a new specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Commission to help provide wrap-around services and “take a holistic approach to those reported for drug offences”, as well as diverting people caught in possession of drugs for personal use “into education, treatment and recovery, ceasing imprisonment in these circumstances”.