Nicola Sturgeon has admitted Scotland’s drugs death rate is “completely unacceptable” as her government was accused of cutting rehabilitation services “to the bone”.
The First Minister acknowledged “the problem in Scotland is worse than it is elsewhere”, as she pledged to move quickly to improve services.
Figures released earlier this week showed there were 1264 deaths in 2019 which involved substance use – a higher rate than across all EU countries and more than three times the UK as a whole.
At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Sturgeon noted that behind every statistic is a “human being whose life mattered”.
Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood, asked about government funding for beds at drug rehabilitation centres.
She said NHS beds at the Castle Craig rehab hospital in West Linton had fallen from 257 in 2002 to five in 2019, while only 13% of all rehab beds in Scotland are provided by the Scottish Government.
Davidson said: “Back in 2006, Nicola Sturgeon stood where I am – right on this spot – berating the then Scottish government for cutting rehab funding.
“The Trainspotting generation theory has been busted because the number of young people dying has doubled in the last two years.
“And the thing that is different about Scotland, the thing that is entirely devolved, is drug treatment and rehabilitation and that is what this Government has cut to the bone.”
The First Minister said: “I think many of the criticisms are valid and legitimate and we have got much work to do in order to ensure that we sort the problem of people dying avoidably from drugs.”
She said she will update MSPs again in January after she meets with a drug death taskforce, which will look at a number of public health interventions.
Sturgeon said: “These are real people whose lives matter and I am absolutely determined that we take the actions to fix this.
“I am not making comparisons with what is happening elsewhere because I do think the problem in Scotland is worse than it is elsewhere.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard read out a quote from activist Peter Krykant, who has offered a “safe consumption van” for drug users.
He said: “Since Scotland’s drug death day of shame just two days ago, another six people will have died.
“Three will die today. We will not have a daily briefing about these three people or any news coverage.
“Don’t let them be forgotten about until they come out as a statistic.”
Leonard, along with Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, repeated a call for public health minister Joe FitzPatrick to step down.
The Labour leader said the minister’s statement on the matter earlier in the week had been “woeful”.
Sturgeon pledged to “work with” FitzPatrick on the issue.
She said: “Hopefully, as we go forward, while there will be legitimate criticism of this government we can also build consensus on the steps that have to be taken to make sure that we do resolve this and sort what is an unacceptable situation.”