Drugs crisis ‘doesn’t have to be constitutional issue’

Scottish Government seeks confirmation UK minister will attend crucial meeting in Glasgow.

Tackling the drugs deaths crisis in Scotland does not have to be a constitutional issue, the Public Health Minister has said.

Joe FitzPatrick made the comments after writing to Home Secretary Priti Patel and urging the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government to tackle the problem.

Mr FitzPatrick asked Ms Patel to confirm an appropriate UK minister would attend a drugs deaths crisis meeting in Glasgow this year, as well as calling for her to consider new measures to attempt to reduce the number of lives lost.

One such measure is a proposal to trial a supervised safe consumption facility, with Glasgow earmarked as the first location.

It is not currently possible to set up such a facility under UK legislation.

Speaking at Holyrood on Tuesday, Mr FitzPatrick said the Scottish and UK Governments should be able to work together to take forward action to address the issue.

“There is good international evidence that safe consumption facilities will save lives,” he said.

“This has now become standard health practice across the world.

“Most recently, advance has been made in Dublin where they’ve gone on to the next stage in terms of having a safer injection facility going forward.”

He added: “Clearly it is one of the bizarre areas of devolution that while we all agree that this is a public health issue, and public health is devolved, the levers that allow us to make these public health approaches remain reserved to Westminster.

“I don’t want to have a constitutional battle around that but I do think that we should be able to work together to take that forward and make the difference.

“This does not have to be a constitutional issue, that is why I’ve written to Priti Patel asking her to work with us on this, to take this forward, to do everything we can jointly to save lives in Scotland and elsewhere across the UK.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Annie Wells said she has written to Boris Johnson asking him to make tackling the drugs death crisis in Scotland his top priority.

“Drugs deaths should be every politicians’ main focus in 2020 – ahead of a Section 30 Order, ahead of Brexit and ahead of all the other distractions that have stopped us from saving lives.”

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon said co-operation is needed to tackle the issue.

“It is to the collective shame of this Parliament and the UK Parliament that more and more lives are being lost,” she said.

“We need co-operation from all parts of Government and our public services to respond to this humanitarian crisis.”

The Home Office has said it has no plans to decriminalise drug possession as it would not eliminate the crime committed by illicit trade.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The number of drug deaths across the UK is extremely concerning, in particular the figures for Scotland, and every death is a tragedy.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to tackle drug misuse and harm, and sustain our support for programmes which reduce the health-related harms of drugs, such widening the availability of naloxone to prevent overdose deaths.”

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