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Cross-party call for 'radical action' on drug deaths

Image credit: Nina A.J

Cross-party call for 'radical action' on drug deaths

A cross-party group of MSPs has launched a petition calling on the UK and Scottish governments to do more to end Scotland’s “drug death crisis”.

Members of Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, SNP and Scottish Greens are urging both governments to consider an “evidence led approach” to drug policy that could include decriminalisation.

The MSPs jointly launched the petition following the publication of official statistics showing that the number of people who died in Scotland from drug overdoses reached an all-time high.

The National Records of Scotland figures showed that last year there were 1,187 drug-related deaths – a 27 percent leap on the year before, making Scotland the country with the highest levels of drug deaths in the developed world.

Lib Dem’s Alex Cole-Hamilton, Labour’s Neil Findlay, Green’s John Finnie and the SNP’s Alex Neil co-authored the petition.

The group of MSPs said: “We call on the Scottish and UK Governments to address this major public health crisis by taking an evidence led approach to policy that examines all options, including decriminalisation.

“We cannot arrest our way to a drug-free society. We have to deal with this crisis as a public health problem, rather than pretend it will go away with tougher sentences and a harsher regime for those caught in possession. This is fanciful and delusional thinking.”

“The governments in Edinburgh and London have to rethink their approach and start to realise that record numbers of people are dying on our streets. This is avoidable and we have a responsibility to recognise that the current model is not working.

“As a cross party group of MSPs we are calling on both governments to change course, before it is too late.”

The Scottish Drugs Forum said that the high number of deaths is in part to do with treatment options for drug users. The organisation described the issue as “a national scandal”.

Drug use and the rising number of related deaths in Scotland has been the subject of an inquiry by Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee, which last week took evidence from the Lord Advocate and the Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick.

Speaking on the newly released statistics, Fitzpatrick said: “The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking.

“It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue, and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk.”

The Scottish Government launched a Drug Deaths Taskforce this summer, led by Stirling University Professor Catriona Matheson, in order to investigate the underlying causes of the crisis and make policy recommendations.

Matheson said: “My thoughts go out to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones.

“These figures bring the scale of the problem we face in Scotland into sharp focus. The need for urgent action is clear and the taskforce gives us a mechanism to do that.

“It is imperative that the taskforce identifies ways in which we can do more to save the lives of those who are most at risk and we will look carefully at what has worked in other parts of the UK and internationally to ensure we apply strong evidence-based practice.”

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