FM pledges £250m to tackle ‘national disgrace’ of drug deaths

The First Minister accepted more could and should have been done in recent years to stem the increase.

FM pledges £250m to tackle ‘national disgrace’ of drug deaths Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon has announced £250m over the next five years for addiction services to tackle rising numbers of drug deaths in Scotland.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, the First Minister accepted more could and should have been done in recent years to stem the increase in deaths – which rose to 1,264 in 2019.

Sturgeon said the figures are a “national disgrace” and it is a “reasonable criticism” to say the Scottish Government should have done more.

“But I am determined that we will provide this national mission with the leadership, focus and resources that it needs,” she told MSPs.

The political fallout from the release of the latest death figures saw public health minister Joe FitzPatrick resign, Angela Constance appointed as the minister responsible for drug policy and opposition MSPs ramp up calls for action.

On Wednesday, the First Minister said: “This funding – a total of £250m over the next Parliament – will support further investment in a range of community-based interventions, including primary prevention and an expansion of residential rehabilitation.

“We will also commit additional funding, if required, to improve toxicology services and enhance public health surveillance of drugs issues, which is essential to effective and timely interventions.

“A significant proportion of extra funding will go directly to alcohol and drug partnerships and we expect much of it then to flow to the grassroots organisations that do so much vital work in our communities.”

A further £5m was also pledged for the remainder of the financial year.
More detail on the proposals, Sturgeon said, will be announced by Ms Constance “in due course”.

A “significant proportion” of the funding will be to increase capacity at rehab centres across the country.

The issue of safe consumption rooms, facilities where drugs can be taken by users under supervision of medical professionals, was also raised in the statement.

The Scottish Government has run into legal roadblocks around opening the facilities, which would need an exemption to existing drug legislation.

Sturgeon pledged to continue to explore how the facilities can be opened, while also increasing funding for heroin assisted treatment.

Scottish Tory Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson described the drug death figures as “Scotland’s shame”.

She welcomed the First Minister’s announcement, and asked if the number of rehab beds will be restored to levels seen in recent years.

Sturgeon said the Scottish Government aims to restore the number of residential rehab beds.

She also launched a veiled attack on the UK Government, saying: “I think all of us across the political spectrum should reflect on policies that our respective parties have followed in recent years and all ask ourselves have some of those contributed to the situations we face?

“I have to put into that category policies that have driven austerity, around welfare cuts, the things that exacerbate rather than alleviate poverty and deprivation.”

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