Drug deaths rate in Scotland a national disgrace, charity says

PA

Latest figures which show Scotland has again recorded a worse drug-death rate than any other EU country are a “national tragedy and disgrace”, according to a charity.

National Records of Scotland published data on Tuesday which shows 1,264 people died in 2019 with causes linked to substances – a 6% increase on 2018.

It is a higher death rate than any EU country and more than three times worse than the UK as a whole, leading to renewed calls for facilities such as drug consumption rooms to be introduced to help tackle the issue.

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David Liddell, chief executive officer of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “None of us should regard these preventable deaths as acceptable or as anything other than a national tragedy and disgrace.

“The need for change is obvious and that change is long overdue.

“Broadly, the challenge in terms of treatment is to ensure that people with a drug problem are treated with dignity and respect.

“In addition, we need to increase the range of services across Scotland to include drug consumption rooms, heroin-assisted treatment and assertive outreach.

“We need to end the alienation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people with a drug problem – the root cause of this issue, which reflects badly on a culture and mindset that we have allowed to develop unchallenged over many years.”

Opposition parties have echoed calls for the issue to be moved higher up the political agenda.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “We can’t sweep this public health and human rights emergency under the carpet a moment longer.

“Safe consumption facilities and increased rapid access to residential rehabilitation are vital and could happen today.”

The Scottish Government has called on UK ministers to change legislation so that overdose prevention centres can be established as quickly as possible.

This could be done by “taking the necessary steps themselves” or by devolving powers to Scotland, they said.

However, it has been argued the law is not so strict as to stop Scottish ministers doing more while the UK Government has previously resisted calls to change legislation as it argues it would not be beneficial.

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats have been arguing that the existing law is not as black and white as the Scottish and UK governments would both have us believe.

“Their policies have failed, but they can each act now.

“It is time Scotland learned from the lessons of other countries that have taken radical steps to reduce unnecessary and tragic drug-related deaths.”

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Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie added: “The Lord Advocate has the power to act now.

“He should use his public interest discretion to ensure that no health professionals would face prosecution for providing lifesaving health interventions.

“Establishing safe consumption facilities could play a significant role in reducing drug-related deaths and other serious harms.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron added: “These statistics are both dreadful and heartbreaking in equal measure.

“Every one of these deaths is a tragic loss of life that could have been avoided.”

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick argued the Scottish Government is doing “everything in its powers” to tackle rising drug deaths.