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SNP urged to take a 'radical' approach to tackling Scotland’s drug death tragedy

Drug users inside the Safe Consumption van organised by Peter Krykant. Picture taken in September 2020.

SNP urged to take a 'radical' approach to tackling Scotland’s drug death tragedy

THE SNP government must set out a “new era of drugs policy radicalism” to tackle the horrific scale of drug deaths in Scotland.

Details about the number of people who died a drug-related death in Scotland last year will be published tomorrow by the National Records of Scotland.

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

Ahead of the statistics being published, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have called on the government to take a more radical approach.

They’ve urged ministers to work with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Lord Advocate to allow safe consumption spaces.

They’ve also called for new specialist family drug and alcohol commissions to help provide wraparound services to those reported for drug offences.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish LibDem health spokesperson, said: “The former SNP justice secretary openly admits that his party chose to look away rather than address the scars of Scottish drugs misuse, for fear that it would distract from the pursuit of independence.

"Nicola Sturgeon chose to cut the budget by 22 per cent. The fallout from those decisions is being felt every day. Ministerial apologies now won't bring those people back.

“Liberal Democrats have led the way in making the case for an evidence-based approach to drug policy for years.

“We need a new era of drugs policy radicalism to finally turn the corner on drugs misuse and ensure that we are treating people with compassion and health treatment, rather than prosecution.”

Last year’s grim figures proved a tipping point for the Scottish Government, with Nicola Sturgeon later admitting that she had taken her “eye off the ball” and should have done more.  

The SNP leader sacked Joe Fitzpatrick, her public health minister, appointing a new minister to focus purely on tackling drug deaths, and pledging an extra £250m over the next Holyrood term to tackle the "national disgrace".

She also said the government would look again at the legal hurdles to establishing drug consumption rooms in Scotland.

While health and policing is devolved to Holyrood, drug laws are reserved to Westminster.

The Scottish Government has long-backed introducing the spaces to allow drug users to safely take their drugs, but say they can’t do anything as the UK Government is opposed. 

However, campaigners – like Peter Krykant who runs an informal consumption room from the back of his van in Glasgow city centre – have long argued that even though drug laws are the responsibility of ministers in London, ministers in Edinburgh could provide legal cover.

They say that the Lord Advocate could release a “letter of comfort” stating that drug consumption rooms could operate without fear of criminal prosecution. 

The former holder of the post, James Wolffe, provided similar guidance for Naloxone. However, he has refused to budge from his 2017 position, saying that there needs to be a change in the law at Westminster before action can be taken. 

The UK government's minister for crime and policing, Kit Malthouse, said it was committed to working with the Scottish Government to tackle drug misuse, but it had "no plans to decriminalise drug possession".

Despite the promise of investment, Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Annie Wells, said there was little evidence much was changing. She 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 are 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.”

She added: “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.”

Earlier this week, the First Minister refused to be drawn on the new drug deaths statistics. 

She said: “The drug deaths toll in Scotland, as I have tried to be candid about, is far too high – shamefully high – and we’ve got to do more about it.

“We are doing a lot now to try to bring those numbers down. We take full responsibility for that. Contextually, it’s important to remember that the figures that will be published this week pre-date much of that activity.

“I wouldn’t expect those interventions, yet, to have an impact on those figures. To what extent COVID might have had an impact on those figures last year, we will have to wait and see what the statistics show and then consider that in the round.”

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