Experts trying to stem the spread of Scotland’s drugs deaths crisis have warned numbers will most likely rise this year.
The number of Scots who have died from substance abuse and drugs harm has increased exponentially in the last decade, with the country earning the unwanted title of drugs death capital of Europe.
Dundee has the highest rate of drugs death, with 72 people dead as a result of drugs in 2019, an increase on 66 from the year previous — or 482 deaths per million people, up from 443 in 2018.
The Scottish Conservatives are calling for funding that would bypass local authority drug and alcohol partnerships, and enshrine the right to a rehabilitation bed in Scots law.
Recently appointed drug policy minister Angela Constance said UK drug laws are not “working” for Scotland.
Right to Rehab
Favor Scotland is an advocacy group made up of people who have gone through drug addiction recovery, their family members and other community recovery groups.
Chief executive Annemarie Ward and the organisation are looking for the Scottish Government in the next parliament to enact a “right to rehab” for those living with addiction.
We are told funding is coming but it is not reaching the frontline. The current system is broken.”
Annemarie Ward, Favor
She said: “The situation on the ground is getting worse. Drug death numbers undoubtedly will rise. This is yet another heart-breaking year for the recovery and treatment community.
“We are told funding is coming but it is not reaching the frontline. The current system is broken.
“A postcode lottery has developed and, unbelievably, it is people in the hardest-hit areas, particularly in Glasgow, who are still being denied access to treatment.
“It is not only a problem with residential rehabilitation. We have advocated for a young man in Edinburgh who has waited eight weeks for a methadone script. Who knows how long it will be before he is referred to rehabilitation.
“Denying access to a viable and successful treatment option, particularly when it is refused purely because someone has been prescribed a higher dose of methadone, is a cruel and short-sighted approach.
“We have sought counsel and, if we can raise the necessary funds, we hope to mount legal challenges every time someone is denied access to rehabilitation services or delayed access to other substance use treatment.
“We have a problem in Scotland that is not being tackled and Favor will work with anyone and everyone to force change and save lives.”
‘Bypass alcohol and drug partnership’
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said previously he and his party does not support decriminalisation or safe-injection centres.
But Mr Ross said they would support “the right to rehab” and would seek policy that would see money diverted around local authority drug and alcohol partnerships and the “current broken system”.
He added: “For too long, the government has taken its eye off the ball, by its own admission. Tackling drug deaths has not been a priority and that has to change now. Too many lives have already been lost.
“We will seek to enshrine a Right to Rehab in law to make sure that everyone who wants help gets access to the treatment they need, accompanied by a central fund to bypass the broken system.
“We will keep campaigning and forcing the SNP to act for as long as it takes to improve access to treatment services and get people the help they need to get well.”
Angela Constance was appointed to the drugs death ministerial role, which had previously been the responsibility of Dundee West SNP candidate Joe FitzPatrick.
The SNP government’s drugs minister said: “The number of people who die of a drug-related death in Scotland is unacceptably high, and each one of these deaths is a preventable tragedy.
“The SNP has committed to investing £250 million over the next parliament to tackle the drug deaths emergency Scotland faces.
“This investment includes £100 million to ensure that there are enough residential rehab places for everyone who wants one and it is considered clinically appropriate.
“Our five-year investment will also support a range of community-based interventions and outreach services backed by moving to five-year funding for third sector and grass roots organisations.
“The central goal of our national mission to save and improve lives is to support more people into treatment that is right for them on an ‘ask once, get help fast’ basis.
“We also remain fully committed to the introduction of medically safe consumption facilities and other evidence-led interventions that will reduce harm and promote recovery.
“In stark contrast, the Tories have not identified funding or outlined an overall plan for change on how we tackle this public health emergency in their manifesto.
“It’s clear that UK drugs law is not working for Scotland, and we desperately need a fresh approach, which is why we continue to call on the UK Government to stop ignoring the evidence and blocking proposals which would support those struggling with addiction and help save lives.”