Number of drug-related deaths a ‘national emergency’ for Scotland

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The Scottish Government has been urged to declare a “national public health emergency” in response to the country’s increasing toll of drugs deaths.

A record 934 drug-related deaths were recorded in Scotland in 2017 – more than double the total a decade ago.

The Scottish Government announced on Wednesday a new national strategy to help those battling addiction.

Under the strategy, an extra £20 million a year has been pledged to tackle the issue.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs claimed there has been too little done since the SNP Government published its previous Road to Recovery document in 2008.

He said: “The SNP Government have failed to lead that change that we all wanted to see.

“A decade ago, Scottish Conservatives asked SNP ministers to act – today we are demanding SNP ministers take action.

“Scotland is facing a national public health emergency, with a record number of drug-related deaths.

“Scotland is looking to its Parliament and this Government to act – and we need action now.

“We want to see steps taken to establish innovative new approaches in Scotland to support individuals, families and our communities.

“This Government has not prioritised the public health emergency which we have in Scotland today and have not looked towards the long-term solutions towards which we all should work to develop.”

The Rights, Respect and Recovery document published by the Scottish Government states Scottish ministers’ support for a safe drugs consumption facility.

It also proposes the development of a drugs and alcohol education programme in schools.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “We’ve had cross-party support for alcohol pricing measures and so we call on consensus on preventing and tackling drug harm, too.

“I hope having now seen the published document, members across the chamber will feel able to get behind the strategy, which has very much been finalised in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders.

“This is an area which requires us all to work together, going beyond traditional party lines as we seek to improve the health of some of the most vulnerable members of society.”

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said Scotland is in the grip of an “alcohol and drugs-related public health emergency”.

There have been more than 15,000 substance-related deaths since the Scottish Government’s previous strategy was published a decade ago.

Ms Lennon said: “We do agree a new approach is required, when 15,000 people have died in the course of the previous strategy, we all have to be brutally honest and say it is not just a refresh that is required.

“This is a public health emergency and the Scottish Government should declare that for the good of the country.”

She added: “If the Government does declare this an alcohol and drugs pubic health emergency and puts the full force of all of government behind this, it will have the full support of our benches.”

While Ms Lennon stressed the need for politicians from rival parties to work together to tackle the problem, she criticised some of the Conservative proposals, saying some “appear to be shaped by Tory ideology rather than evidence-based solutions”.

The Conservatives’ proposed strategy “fails to recognise that people experiencing addiction are in the grip of an illness”, the Labour MSP said.

Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton also stressed Scotland’s drug and alcohol problem amounted to a “public health crisis”.

He said: “In recent times the Scottish Government’s public policy response to this public health crisis has been wholly inadequate.”

Scottish Greens health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone spoke in favour of the new approach.

She said: “The Scottish Greens have always believed that drug problems should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal issue.

“This new strategy marks a welcome shift in attitude. The promised focus on prevention must be backed up with investment in housing, education and mental health services so people are better able to live better lives.”

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