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by Andrew Learmonth
29 July 2021
Scotland's drug death toll likely to pass 'grim milestone'

Scotland's drug death toll likely to pass 'grim milestone'

SCOTLAND’s drug death toll is expected to pass a “grim milestone” tomorrow when the latest statistics are published.

In 2019, 1,264 Scots died drug-related deaths, up 6 per cent on the previous year, that’s a higher rate than those reported for all the EU countries, and approximately three and a half times that of the UK as a whole.

The Scottish Conservatives said that tomorrow’s figures - which cover the whole of 2020 - would show that Scotland had now passed 10,000 drug-related deaths during the SNP’s time in government.

They hit out at the Scottish Government for cutting the number of rehab beds and slashing funding for rehab services.

The new shadow minister for drugs policy, Sue Webber, said: “This week, drug deaths under the SNP will pass 10,000 people. Behind every one of those deaths is a broken family grieving the loss of a loved one.

“The government should be ashamed of this grim milestone, as should all of us. The drug death crisis affects every generation of Scots and people all over the country.

“But the lack of bold action in response is galling. The government have introduced new standards that are meaningless unless they are enforceable and enshrined in law. Campaigners are clear that without teeth, they will achieve very little.”

Webber said her party’s “right to recovery bill” would ensure “everyone gets the treatment they need, which is the minimum we should expect.”

She added: “We have seen during the pandemic that laws can be passed swiftly, in just a few days, to tackle a health crisis. So why are the SNP Government dragging their feet on a key solution to tackling the drug death crisis?”

Last year’s grim figures proved a tipping point for the Scottish Government, with Nicola Sturgeon sacking her public health minister, appointing a new minister to focus purely on tackling drug deaths, and pledging to invest in treatment, rehabilitation services, and support for community services.

The First Minister later admitted she had taken her “eye off the ball”.

Justina Murray, the CEO of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, said they welcomed the increased levels of funding to address drug harms, “along with a raft of new initiatives, strategies and plans”.

However, she added: “The reality on the ground is that things still look and feel the same for families. We will only see change in the drug death figures when families tell us things have changed for the better.

“For years families have been shouting about the lack of treatment and care options for their loved ones, particularly for co-existing drugs and mental health issues; judgemental services which are near impossible to access and sustain; the lack of any clear care and recovery plans; and their exclusion from key decisions alongside an assumption they will constantly step into the breach where services fail.

"Families are holding on to hope and holding on for change, but time has run out for too many.”

Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance said she still hadn't seen the detail of the Tory plan: “When the Bill that has been discussed is actually published we will be able to give it proper consideration to see if it will do what is claimed.

"Scotland suffers a terrible toll from drug deaths, leaving families grieving and in pain. My focus is on taking action now and delivering new investment to improve services and save lives.

“In the weeks and months to come this might mean we have to take actions that are unpalatable to some – but given the scale of loss we have seen in recent years I will do whatever I possibly can to save more lives.

“We’re already reinforcing our rights-based approach, and as part of our national mission to tackle the drug deaths emergency we’ve allocated an additional £250 million over the next 5 years to improve and increase access to services for people affected by drug addiction – that includes investment of £100 million on residential rehabilitation to increase capacity and improve pathways to expand access to services for the most vulnerable

“Getting people into the treatment and recovery that is right for them at the right time is at the core of our national mission to save and improve lives. We have announced £4 million to fund Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) standards, which will mean people who use drugs receive help the day they ask for it regardless of where they live.

“We’ll also support and promote any approaches that have a strong evidence base that may be able to help save lives, including widening distribution and access to the overdose-reversing and potentially life-saving drug naloxone in partnership with Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Henry McLeish: 'Yes, I would support independence'

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