MSP demands inquiry into ‘public health crisis’ of drug deaths

A public inquiry must be held urgently in order to address a rising number of drug deaths in Scotland, an MSP has said.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Scottish Green MSP John Finnie described the issue as a “public health crisis” and called for immediate action.

Mr Finnie said that with the number of deaths as a result of taking drugs expected to increase, a change in approach is required.

He said: “The current approach clearly isn’t working, First Minister.

“There were 934 deaths in 2017 and, sadly, everything suggests the figure for 2018 may be significantly higher.

“We’re faced with a public health crisis. Scottish ministers have the power to establish a public inquiry into any matter when there is a large loss of life and/or serious health and safety issues.

“This situation clearly meets both these criteria. Will the First Minister urgently establish a statutory inquiry into Scotland’s drug death crisis and commit to acting on its findings in order to end this ongoing tragedy?”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the option of holding an inquiry would not be taken off the table, while highlighting the Government’s national alcohol and drugs strategy which was published in November.

The strategy focuses on improving support for those who need it, as well as seeking to address the wider issues involved.

It is backed by an additional £20 million a year for drug and alcohol services.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m not immediately persuaded that (an inquiry) would be the best way forward, but of course we will consider any proposal that has been made.

“Any death from drugs is one too many. Many of the people we sadly see dying from drugs are people who have lived with alcohol and drug use for a long time and become more vulnerable as they grow older.

“The 2018 drug death report showed fewer deaths in under-25s than in the previous year, and of course recent reports also highlight falling heroin use, particularly in the under-25 age group.

“There is absolutely no room there for complacency, but I think it is an important contextual point to make.

“We want to look at different ways of addressing these issues, that’s why, for example, we have supported Glasgow City Council in its request to set up medically supervised, safer-drug consumption facilities.

“We want to treat these issues much more as public health issues, bringing different agencies together, and as we do that we are of course prepared to consider any proposal that is made and I will do that with the one that John Finnie has made today.”