PM: Drug deaths ‘failures’ down to Scottish Government

Boris Johnson said the vast panoply of powers needed to tackle the crisis are 'already vested with the devolved administration'.

PM: Drug deaths ‘failures’ down to Scottish Government Getty Images

The rising number of drug-related deaths in Scotland is largely down to “failures” of the Scottish Government, Boris Johnson has said.

On Tuesday, National Records of Scotland (NRS) revealed that there were 1264 deaths involving substance use in 2019.

The figures, which showed a 6% increase on 2018, are the worst rate in Europe and more than three-times the UK as a whole.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon called on public health minister Joe FitzPatrick to step down in light of the figures.

Opposition politicians and charities also called for more action to stop the deaths, saying each could have been prevented.

Speaking at Holyrood, FitzPatrick said “considerable action” had been taken in the past two years to improve the service.

Earlier, he said the Scottish Government was doing “everything in its powers” to tackle rising drug deaths.

He also said he would continue to urge the UK Government to change the law to legalise supervised drug consumption facilities or devolve the necessary powers to Scotland, something which it has repeatedly ruled out.

However at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Johnson said the “failures” were “largely down” to the Scottish Government.

Inverclyde SNP MP Ronnie Cowan asked: “Previously the UK Government has held an ideological view that drug consumption rooms encourage drug taking.

“Will the Prime Minister engage with me and allow me the opportunity to help the Prime Minister do a good thing?”

Johnson responded: “I must say that we don’t want to do anything that would encourage the consumption of more drugs, nor do we want to decriminalise the possession of drugs – because I believe that they ruin lives and drive criminality across this whole United Kingdom.

“I am more than happy to look at the proposals he makes one more time and indeed to pursue the agenda of tackling drugs, but I may say that the majority of powers that are needed, the vast panoply of powers that are needed to tackle drugs and drugs crime are already vested with the devolved administration in Scotland.

“I am afraid the failures that he talks about are very largely down to them.”

In response, the Scottish Government said it was working “urgently” to tackle rising drug deaths and to put in place “high-quality, person-centred services for those most at risk”.

A spokesperson said: “Along with our partners, we are taking a range of steps to alleviate the problem of substance misuse, and to reduce the number of deaths.

“These include £95.3m invested this year alone to tackle problem alcohol and drug use and a significant increase in the rollout of naloxone –  which can temporarily reverse the effect of opioids in the event of an overdose.

“We have also established the Drug Deaths Taskforce, and invested £900,000 to fund a new programme to improve the response to drug and alcohol use among the homeless population.

“As the Prime Minister knows, there are significant areas in which we would wish to make progress, which depend on action from the UK Government, and it is disappointing he has not engaged positively on the issue.

“These include the introduction of overdose prevention facilities; the regulation of the sale of pill press machines; the approval of licences to establish drug checking facilities; and amending legislation to permanently allow the distribution of naloxone by non-drug treatment services.”

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