Dundee-based MSP Jenny Marra has used her final speech in parliament to condemn the “shame” of Scotland’s position as drug death capital of the world.
Ms Marra, who is standing down as the Labour representative for North East Scotland after a decade in the role, also paid tribute to her colleagues and family who had supported her through her time at Holyrood.
Drugs deaths in Scotland have more than doubled since 2011.
Dundee has the highest rate of drug death in the developed world, with the latest figures, from 2019, showing 72 people died from substance abuse-related harm — 482 deaths per million people, up from 443 per million in 2018.
Whoever forms government in May, I sincerely hope they take our shame of drugs deaths so much more seriously than they have over my 10 years in this place.”
Labour MSP Jenny Marra
Dundee West MSP Joe FitzPatrick was replaced as drugs minister earlier this year, following the release of the latest figures.
Ms Marra used her closing speech to criticise the Scottish Government’s “lack of ideas”.
“This debate is long overdue. The reluctance of the SNP to debate drugs in their own parliamentary time tells its own story over the course of this parliament,” she said.
“Not of malice or bad intent, but a lack of ideas and analysis.
“It pains me to say it, for the last 10 years I have attempted to speak for the people of Dundee, where the crisis is at its worst.
“People I went to school with are caught up in this circle of despair. Classmates of the former drugs minister Joe FitzPatrick have said ‘we are the age of that ageing cohort the government speak of.
“Back in 2012, I spoke from the backbenches on the government’s drug strategy, the road to recovery… it was anything but.
“Eight years later drugs deaths have more than doubled and recovery beds have gone. We have a drugs taskforce which is painfully slow. The Dundee Drugs Commission did its work in good faith and now seems to be gathering dust on the shelf.
“The frustrating thing is that those who did the work made clear there was no silver bullet. All analysis points towards investment and community drug workers on the ground who support families and do the hard yards of walking alongside people who use drugs and supporting their recovery. This is yet to happen.
“The path to drugs is wide and open. When so many other paths close off to young people in Dundee and Scotland – precious few jobs to go to, few of any standing or earning potential. The dream of owning your own house is distant, holidays are for other people.
“We call it economic insecurity and today we only see the dangerous surface of that iceberg because Covid has created a catastrophe in the economy and we will see that take place in the next few years.
“Do we brace ourselves and start to try policy which will start to stem the tide economically, create more hope for young people and alternative paths from drugs.
“Whoever forms government in May, I sincerely hope they take our shame of drugs deaths so much more seriously than they have over my 10 years in this place.”
‘A national mission’
Minister for Drugs Policy Angela Constance announced a raft of funding to tackle the drug deaths misery.
She said: “We have said a national mission is needed to tackle the drug deaths emergency and this coming year will see funding for alcohol and drugs support increasing to £140.7 million.
“This latest round of funding sees us build on the £1 million Communities Fund and £1 million Improvement Fund we launched in February.
“We want to make additional resources available to more community and third sector organisations so that we can support more people into treatment and offer support to their families.
“I am pleased we are also able to direct more funding to develop services specifically for women and children. We want to make it easier for women to access treatment by removing any barriers, such as a lack of childcare.
“I have already committed to taking action on the recommendations from the Residential Rehabilitation Working Group and this will be backed by £100 million over the next five years.
“We recognise residential rehabilitation may not be for everyone, which is why we are determined, as part of our national mission, to make sure that people can access whatever treatment is right for them in the right place at the right time.”
Of the £18 million fund, £3 million will go to children and families affected by drugs misuse.
Another £5 million will go towards increasing capacity for residential rehabilitation and £5 million will go towards improving existing services.
“Braver” policies needed
Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “People are dying preventable deaths, three, four, five and sometimes even six decades before their time.
“We owe it to all of them to drop all lingering excuses – there are none.
“And we owe it to all of them to do everything possible to turn this around.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said he welcomed the new approach from the Scottish Government, calling on ministers to work with their UK counterparts to deal with the issue.
He said: “We need braver and bolder policies to tackle the core causes of drug use.
“Politicians across the spectrum have collectively failed to meet this challenge up until now, as the figures so starkly show.
“But we have an opportunity to steer Scotland in a new direction.”
Green MSP Alison Johnstone also questioned the legal response to drug use.
She said: “This is a public health emergency. We can’t arrest our way out of the drug deaths crisis.
“We need to help people to manage their drug use rather than to punish them for it.”