'What about families?': Calls for urgent action on drugs deaths report

The Scottish Drugs Deaths Taskforce published its recommendations on Thursday.

‘Ministers must respond to drugs taskforce recommendations with urgency’ iStock

There is more that “can and must be done” to tackle drugs deaths in Scotland, ministers have been told.

It comes after the publication of 20 recommendations to tackle the issue by the Scottish Drugs Deaths Taskforce.

The group was established by the Scottish Government three years ago in response to the crisis.

Scotland currently has the highest drugs death toll in Europe, with 1,411 lives lost in 2020.

The country’s latest drugs death figures are set to be published next week.

Included in its recommendations, the taskforce outlined the need for the introduction of drugs consumption rooms.

It also said that drug treatment services must provide emergency 24/7 care for people in Scotland, regardless of where they live in the country, as well as aftercare for those that have left a service.

The report blamed the death rate on multiple chronic problems including poor physical and mental health, unemployment, unstable housing, involvement with the criminal justice system and family breakdowns.

Angela Constance, Scotland’s drugs policy minister, said the Scottish Government would consider all of the recommendations set out in the report.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called for MSPs his party’s Bill seeking to guarantee people’s right to recovery.

Claire Baker, Scottish Labour’s drugs policy spokesperson, insisted that the Government must respond to the report with urgency.

“I’d like to thank the taskforce for their important work on this issue,” she said.

“They have put together comprehensive set of recommendations and the onus is now on the Scottish Government to put these into action.

“From the ‘woeful’ underfunding of services to the fragmented approach to policy, this report makes it clear that the status quo is not good enough. 

“There is more that can and must be done here in Scotland if we are to reduce drug deaths, and the Scottish Government must respond to this report with the urgency needed. 

“There is no time to waste – they need to use every lever at their disposal to tackle the serious shortcomings raised in this report.”

Douglas Ross called again for MSPs to back the Right to Recovery Bill, while also criticising the Scottish Government for seeking to hold an independence referendum next year.

“Drug deaths are Scotland’s national shame and Nicola Sturgeon was forced to admit she took her eye off the ball,” said Ross.

“This watershed report makes it clear that can never happen again if we are to drastically reduce the tragic number of lives lost to drugs in Scotland.

“That is why it is disgraceful that Nicola Sturgeon’s is pressing ahead with plans for another divisive independence referendum next year. That is time and resources that should be spent on tackling record levels of drugs deaths right now.

“There is no silver bullet to tackle the drug deaths crisis but I believe the Right to Recovery Bill which would guarantee access to treatment for those who need it most can be a game-changer in this fight.”

Ross urged Angela Constance to support the bill being brought forward by the Scottish Conservatives.

“The Right to Recovery Bill was written in conjunction with frontline experts like FAVOR Scotland, and SNP ministers must accept the Taskforce’s recommendation to do likewise in their own response to this crisis,” he continued.

“The consultation responses to the Right to Recovery Bill were overwhelmingly positive.

“The SNP’s drugs policy minister has indicated she backs the bill in principle, but there is no time for dithering and delaying in order to ensure we support those struggling with addiction immediately.

“She could back this Bill to go through Parliament right now.”

The Scottish Conservative leader described drugs deaths as a “scourge” on communities.

He concluded: “The process of this report was fraught with members of the taskforce resigning late last year despite the urgent need to tackle the scourge of drug deaths in our communities.

“The publication of this report is timely ahead of the latest drug death figures being released next week. The number of deaths due to drugs have risen every year since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minster.

“That is what the SNP Government should be tackling, instead of being distracted by pushing their independence obsession at every turn.”

Constance explained that many of the recommendations outlined in previous reports have already been implemented.

She also said that other measures, including on safer drug consumption facilities, are being progressed.

“I welcome this final report from the Drug Deaths Taskforce and I want to thank the chair David Strang, vice-chair Fiona McQueen and every single member for their considerable commitment to producing these recommendations all of which we will consider in detail and respond to in due course,” she said.

“The Taskforce was established to provide expert advice on the emergency response to rising drug-related deaths in Scotland.

“Many of the recommendations proposed in previous reports have already been implemented including measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and the expansion of the police naloxone pilot.  

“Others, such as safer drug consumption facilities, drug checking facilities, ending Friday liberations and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) standards, are already being progressed.”

Constance stated that fragmentation of service delivery is “in no-ones interest”, as she explained that the Government will focus on ensuring that everyone who accesses services is treated with respect and compassion.

“Of course there are areas where we want to go far further and today’s recommendations will be central to delivering that,” she said.

“We have announced £1.1m of new investment into public health surveillance projects to improve our real-time understanding of harms so we can improve our response. 

“A target has been set to increase the number of people in protective treatment for problematic drug use and we are working closely with Integration Authorities on accountability and transparency –  recently approving a new governance framework with COSLA which will improve the effectiveness of Alcohol and Drug Partnerships in advance of more ambitious reforms under the new National Care Service.

“Fragmentation of service delivery is in no-ones interest, and particularly so for a group as vulnerable as people who are struggling with drug dependency. We will be focusing on ensuring that all services treat people who use drugs with the same respect and compassion as would be expected for any other health condition.”

The minister pointed to the oversight body set up to monitory progress made, which held its first meeting this month.

She added: “With the backing of an additional £250m over the course of this parliament, we are now focussed on delivery and change on the ground, to provide meaningful improvement in people’s lives.

“This will be overseen by the National Drugs Mission Oversight Group which will support the national mission to reduce drug-related deaths and improve lives by providing scrutiny, challenge and advice to the Scottish Government and the wider sector. 

“It will bring together leaders from a range of organisations and backgrounds, including international experts, those with lived and living experience, clinicians, academics, the third sector and local government and those with experience of working on the Taskforce to monitor the implementation of their final recommendations.”

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