‘Failing’ drugs policies blamed for rising deaths

Drugs policy “failures” have been blamed for the rising death toll in Scotland.

Official statistics indicated 1,187 people died drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018, up 27% on the previous year, and again the worst on record and the highest reported rate in the EU.

Scottish Affairs Committee chairman Pete Wishart said the figures must prompt a change in policy at Westminster.

He said: “Today’s disturbing figures show just how severely the UK Government’s current drugs policy is failing the people of Scotland.

“Westminster must wake up to the reality that a new, evidence-based approach to drugs is needed.”

His SNP colleague Alison Thewliss MP urged the Home Office to rethink its opposition to safer drug consumption rooms.

She said: “Their blind commitment to outdated ideology over saving lives is unforgivable. How many people need to die before Tory ministers will finally admit there is a problem?”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland and the National Aids Trust (NAT) back the rooms.

NAT director Yusef Azad said: “These figures clearly demonstrate the urgent need for Glasgow to be allowed to open a drug consumption room, which is a proven way of reducing drug-related deaths and supporting people into treatment.”

Dr Donna Mullen of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland said: “What we need now is bold measures including embracing harm reduction and taking the treatment to the patient. RCPsych in Scotland believes one such measure should be safe consumption rooms.”

Green MSP John Finnie said the figures are “harrowing”, and also called for supervised facilities.

““It’s clear that the current approach to drugs from both the Scottish and UK governments is not working,” he said.

“When it comes to drugs, criminalisation has caused more harm than it can claim to have prevented. The ‘war on drugs’ approach has self-evidently failed.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Scotland now has the worst drugs death crisis in the developed world.

“Scottish drugs policy has utterly failed. Here and across the UK, we need an immediate change of course.”

He called for decriminalisation of drugs for personal use, protection for drug and alcohol treatment budgets, and treatment for heroin users across Scotland.

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said the deaths are “out of control”, adding: “These drug deaths are preventable and our governments at Holyrood and Westminster must work together to solve this national crisis.”

Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative public health spokeswoman, said drug deaths have more than doubled since the SNP came to power and the party’s drug strategies have “only made things worse”.

She said: “Predictably, in their desperation, the nationalists are now pinning their hopes on consumption rooms, because they know it’s something the UK Government does not agree with.

“That’s a cowardly approach from those ministers who’re meant to be taking responsibility. Instead, they’re hiding behind a ruse.

“They should be focusing their efforts on rehabilitation and abstinence-based recovery, the very services they have cut to the bone.”

She also criticised the use of methadone, but Scottish Drugs Forum head David Liddell argued it is a “life-saving pharmaceutical treatment” and needs to be delivered correctly.

He said the latest statistics, from 2016, showed that 33% of patients were prescribed a dose lower than the minimum dose recommended in national clinical guidance and by the World Health Organisation.