Taskforce to address drug deaths 'emergency' in Scotland

31 March 2019, 07:17 | Updated: 31 March 2019, 07:19

Drugs Heroin

Ministers are to assemble a taskforce to tackle the rising number of drug deaths in Scotland.

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick made the announcement as he said "radical steps" are needed to address the "emergency".

The Scottish Government is set to convene an expert group to examine the factors behind the deaths and advise on what measures may be needed to help save lives.

There were 934 drug-related deaths registered in 2017, up 66 (8%) on the previous year, and it is feared the 2018 figure may be higher.

It was the highest level since current records began in 1996 and more than double the 445 deaths in 2007.

The statistics indicated that Scotland's drug death rate is roughly two and half times that of the UK.

The Scottish Government has faced calls to hold a public inquiry into the problem and MPs on the Scottish Affairs committee recently launched their own probe.

Mr FitzPatrick announced the Scottish Government's latest plans in an article in Saturday's Daily Record.

He wrote: "I recognise that some people believe a public inquiry would help deliver change. Sadly, these inquiries can often take years to conclude their work. I want us to move considerably faster.

"That is why I will soon be convening an expert group to examine the key drivers of drug deaths and advise on what further changes, either in practice or in the law, could help save lives and reduce harm."

He also spoke of the "devastating impact" of unchecked addiction on individuals and their families.

He voiced his support for the introduction of a medically supervised safe consumption facility in Glasgow and said: "We must be prepared to take radical steps to back innovative approaches which can make a real difference."

Calling for action from UK ministers, he wrote: "The UK Government must recognise what Scotland faces in drug deaths is also an emergency.

"It holds the power to decide if a safe consumption facility can get the legal go-ahead, and so far they have rejected it out of hand.

"If the UK Government continues to refuse the act, we call on it to pass powers to the Scottish Parliament so we can do what is necessary."

Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: "Scotland is experiencing a drug and alcohol crisis that is ending thousands of lives each year and costing our economy billions of pounds.

"Scottish Labour has repeatedly pressed the Scottish Government to declare a public health emergency in response to this national crisis, and any step taken towards doing so is to be welcomed.

"However, this cannot be kicked into the long grass and must become a national priority for the Government and its agencies."

Scottish Conservative health secretary Miles Briggs said: "I am glad the SNP now seem to recognise Scotland is in the middle of a drug crisis.

"The Scottish Conservatives recently launched our own drugs policy which calls on government to focus on showing hard drug users that there is a better way.

"A cross-party approach is needed to deliver results, keep our communities safe, and change lives for the better."