Committing to a Right to Recovery Bill would show Humza Yousaf is serious about tackling Scotland’s drug death rate, Douglas Ross has said.
The Scottish Conservative leader made his call ahead of the annual publication, by National Records of Scotland on Tuesday, of the drug mortality figure for the country in 2022.
Ross first proposed the Right to Recovery Bill ahead of the 2021 Holyrood elections.
The Bill would enshrine in law the right of those struggling with addiction to access their preferred treatment method unless a clinician rules it harmful.
In 2021, 1,330 people died a drug-related death in Scotland – a rate of about 245 deaths per million people – a rate 3.8 times higher than the next worst European nation, Norway, and 4.9 times higher than England and Wales.
The First Minister indicated his support for the Conservative Bill during his race to replace Nicola Sturgeon as first minister and SNP leader.
But Ross has said the Scottish Government is not moving fast enough as he accused ministers of focusing on decriminalising drugs.
Last month, the Scottish Government published a paper on drug law reform, urging the UK Government to decriminalise all drugs for personal supply.
It would see those found in possession of substances treated and supported, rather than criminalised, however, the UK Government knocked back the proposals within an hour of the publication’s release.
Ross said: “It’s impossible to overstate the scale of Scotland’s drug death crisis – this is truly a national emergency.
“The fatality rate is so much worse here than in the rest of Europe, and the rest of the UK, that is demands the full attention of the Scottish Government after years of shameful neglect by the SNP.
“Humza Yousaf must learn from Nicola Sturgeon’s mistakes and finally treat this issue as a top priority to massively reduce the number of Scottish families enduring needless, heart-breaking loss.
“I would hope – and expect – to see a substantial fall on last year’s appalling total but, even if this is the case, Scotland will likely continue to be an appalling outlier for the continent.
“One of the biggest issues facing those with addiction problems is accessing treatment.
“That’s why the Right to Recovery Bill I’m taking through Parliament is crucial – as it would enshrine in law the right of everyone to receive the potentially life-saving treatment they need – and why it is backed by experts, charities and those with lived experience.
“Humza Yousaf made encouraging noises about supporting the Bill during the SNP leadership election but has been quiet since. Worryingly, he appears to be advocating the decriminalisation of drugs instead.
“We need the SNP to stop dithering and get full square behind the Right to Recovery Bill. Tackling Scotland’s drugs deaths shame must finally be a top priority for Humza Yousaf and his Government.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has urged the Scottish Government to support specialist drug commissions and safe consumption rooms. He said: “Like many, I am dreading the publication of these figures.
“Every drug death is preventable, so I will never understand why Nicola Sturgeon, by her own admission, took her eye off the ball and slashed tens of millions from essential services.
“With deaths that are now many times worse than anywhere else in Europe, Humza Yousaf must do what his predecessor failed to do and put an end to this national shame.”
Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister Elena Whitham said: “We are taking action now to save and improve lives with an evidence-based approach – implementing policies that we know work to reduce harm and deaths from drugs and focusing on getting people into support and treatment.
“We are investing a total of £250m in our National Mission on drugs over the course of this Parliament and have already supported 300 grass-roots projects.
“We’ll continue to expand and improve access to residential rehabilitation and drive MAT Standards implementation where recent research found substantial progress had been made with more people getting treatment.
“We are already committed to taking a human-rights based approach to reducing drug related deaths and harms. We support the principle of getting more people into the treatment and recovery that is right for them.
“As the Bill has not yet been published, we are yet to see the detail of how the proposals would work in practice, including how concerns raised at the Bill’s consultation stage have been addressed. We are committed to giving the proposed member’s bill careful consideration when it is published.”