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Nicola Sturgeon apologises over record drug deaths

Nicola Sturgeon apologises over record drug deaths

The First Minister has apologised to the families of those who have died from a drug-related death.

Figures published earlier this week showed there were 1,264 drug deaths in 2019 – a six per cent increase from 2018 and the highest figure on record.

Nicola Sturgeon said the figures were “completely unacceptable” and committed to getting personally involved in the drug deaths taskforce to respond to the problem.

The matter was raised by three of the four opposition leaders at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday.

Sturgeon said: “Behind every single one of these statistics is a human being whose life mattered – someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister.

“I am sorry to every family who has suffered grief. Every person who dies an avoidable death because of drug use has been let down.”

She confirmed she would attend the next meeting of the drug deaths taskforce on 12 January to consider any “immediate steps” which could be taken.

The First Minister will then make a statement to parliament before the end of that month to announce any action to be taken.

Scottish Tory Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson called for £20m to be given to charities which provide rehabilitation services, highlighting most rehab beds in Scotland are managed by the third sector.

She said: “Today to get rehab, people need to be really lucky and get charity help, or they need to be wealthy enough to afford it – because only 13 per cent of rehab beds in Scotland are provided by the Scottish Government. Her own report says that people can be on rehab waiting lists for a year. Charities cannot do this on their own.”

The First Minister accepted that “relatively few” of the 365 rehab beds are provided by the Scottish Government, adding she would ensure resources are available for any actions deemed necessary to tackle the issue as a whole.

She said funding for alcohol and drug partnerships had increased every year except two since the SNP came into government, but she accepted this did not mean that funding was “adequate”.

Meanwhile, both Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie called for Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick to be sacked.

Leonard described Fitzpatrick’s statement to parliament on drug deaths as “woeful” and Rennie said: “We need a minister who is able to drive change and whatever his talents, Joe Fitzpatrick is not that person.”

Sturgeon replied: “I’m going to work with the drugs minister to make sure we collectively accept this responsibility and take the actions that are required to fix the problem.”

She also responded to misinformation around the drug death figures not being comparable to elsewhere in the UK, adding: “I am not making comparisons with what is happening elsewhere, because I do think the problem in Scotland is worse than it is elsewhere.”

She said the Scottish Government was responsible for tackling the problem and would not “deflect” criticisms. She said: “My starting point is what powers we have right now and what the responsibility of this government is. That is how I intend to proceed.

“We will continue to have discussions about decisions that lie outwith our powers, but that starting point is what this government is responsible for and it is this government’s responsibility to sort this out.”

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