Nicola Sturgeon says she is absolutely committed to tackling the “tragic toll of drugs deaths” in Scotland over the course of the next parliament.
Earlier this week the first minister unveiled her new cabinet ministers, including re-appointing Almond Valley MSP Angela Constance as drugs policy minister.
Drugs minister to report directly to first minister
Ms Constance was initially given the drugs brief at the end of 2020, with her main responsibilities including reducing the harm of drugs misuse, supporting rehabilitation, and ultimately reducing drugs deaths.
After being re-elected to parliament on May 6, Ms Constance will now take on the responsibility of reducing drug deaths for the next five years.
However, she will be the only government minister reporting directly to the first minister.
During the election campaign, the first minister admitted she had taken her eye off the ball when it came to drugs deaths during the televised leaders’ debate on STV.
However a spokesman for the first minister now says she is committed to tackling the scourge of drugs, and adds making Angela Constance report directly to her shows just how seriously she takes the issue.
The spokesman said: “The first minister has made clear her absolute commitment to tackling the issue of drug use, and to turning the tide when it comes to the tragic toll of drug deaths across Scotland in recent years.
“We have made clear our intention to take the action needed by announcing new investment and appointing a dedicated minister for drugs policy – and the fact that Angela Constance will be reporting directly to the first minister shows how seriously she takes this.”
Tackling the drugs crisis in Dundee
The latest figures show there were 1,264 drug deaths in Scotland in 2019, which is significantly higher than anywhere else in Europe.
To put the figures into perspective, that is 295 drug deaths per million people – the next highest rate in Europe is Sweden, which has just 81 drug deaths per million people.
This is most acute in the city of Dundee, which had 482 drug deaths per million people in 2019, up from 443 the previous year.
The number of people dying from drugs in Dundee rose from 66 in 2018 to 72 in 2019, which is the sixth consecutive year there has been a rise in drug deaths in the city.
Two years ago, recommendations were made on how to tackle drug deaths in the city, and the Dundee Drugs Commission is due to meet in July to review these recommendations.
The commission added a “massive” amount of work is currently being done by the national drugs deaths taskforce, and moving forward says the priorities the taskforce has highlighted need to be at the top of the agenda.
Previously Angela Constance said the highest rates of drug deaths were also in the areas with the highest rates of deprivation, and “focused attention” needed to be paid to these areas with emergency funding to make sure no area is left behind.
A spokesman for the first minister also said although drug deaths was a national issue, the government is aware there are particular issues and challenges affecting Dundee that need to be addressed.
Dundee councillor says Angela Constance has the experience needed to tackle drugs in the city
Councillor Ken Lynn, chair of the Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership and member of the Dundee Drugs Commission, said Angela Constance has the hands-on experience needed to tackle drugs in the city.
He said: “I am delighted to see Angela Constance has been re-appointed as minister for drugs policy.
“I attended a meeting with her shortly after her original appointment during the last parliament.
“She has worked with people with a history of drug use in the past and so has hands-on experience.
“I was impressed by her compassion and determination to enact measures to tackle the dreadful scourge of drug dependence and drug-related deaths.
“We have already made improvements to drug services in the city although there is much still to be done given the extent of the problem.
“We need to ensure that those who need help are given it as soon as possible after they seek it and importantly we need to much more adequately address the issue of those drug users who also have mental health problems.
“The city has recently received funding for a project to do just that and we are looking closely at the work which has been done with young people in Iceland where there has been a dramatic reduction in the numbers of young people using drugs and alcohol.
“I think it’s fair to say that young people are key to the whole process as if we can prevent them from using in the first place by creating increased life opportunities then the chances of dependence in the future are lessened.
“I believe that Angela Constance and the Scottish Government will continue as they have begun, in challenging the constraints of the current system such as our inability to provide overdose prevention facilities and providing the additional investment which will be needed.
“The £250 million investment announced in the last few months is very welcome and I am assured that prevention of drugs deaths is a major priority not just for Holyrood but at Dundee City Council, the health and social care partnership and NHS Tayside, not to forget all the third sector agencies which do such good work.”