Scotland’s new drug policy minister, Angela Constance, says she wants to introduce users’ checking facilities in Dundee and Aberdeen as part of a national effort to reduce the country’s shocking death toll.
In 2019 there were over 1,200 drug deaths in Scotland, which is significantly higher than anywhere else in Europe. Dundee is among the worst affected places in the country and there have been recent fears of a significant increase in the Granite City.
During the election campaign First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she had taken “her eye off the ball” on the social scandal.
In an exclusive interview, Ms Constance now says she is looking at a number of ways to try and bring these numbers down, and says her priority will be getting more people into the right kind of treatment.
She says it is important to make a real impact on drug deaths and harm from drugs over the course of the next parliament.
She said: “We want to see evidence that we have turned the tide on drug-related deaths and reduce the harm.
“We want more people in treatment, and we are working on getting the treatment that is right for them, whether that is psychosocial support, medication support or residential rehab.
“I am always looking at what we need to do to get the job done.
“When I came into this post I established a national mission to tackle drug deaths and we will do that by an all-government team approach to saving and improving lives.”
Among her proposals include increasing the availability of naloxone, a medicine which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and potentially save lives.
Earlier this week she also announced plans to offer treatment on the day the person asks for it, and increase medication-assisted treatment.
As part of our national mission to tackle drug related deaths, for the 1st time we now have have a clear SGovt commitment, with resources & support, to implement all 10 treatment stds, nationwide, by April 22, this video explains why this is the cornerstone to improving services https://t.co/3ThQwndmyN
— Angela Constance (@AConstanceSNP) June 2, 2021
Could drug consumption rooms and drug checking facilities be introduced to Scotland?
Ms Constance also says she is keen to see drug consumption rooms and drug checking facilities – where users can have what they are planning to take analysed to see exactly what is in it – but says there are legal barriers.
She also wants to see a heroin-assisted treatment pilot in Glasgow, where heroin users are prescribed diamorphine as part of their treatment, to be rolled out to other areas of Scotland.
The minister said: “A pilot in heroin-assisted treatment in Glasgow has been successful, particularly with people who have long histories of drug use.
“It can help stabilise them and prevent them from deteriorating further, and I have no doubt other areas such as Dundee could benefit from this.
“Scotland would benefit from evidence-based intervention, whether that is heroin-assisted treatment, overdose prevention facilities, or drug checking facilities.
“We are very supportive of these facilities quite simply because they save lives, but there are legal barriers just now to us implementing them in Scotland.
“I am determined to find a way to make overdose prevention facilities in Scotland a reality and I have officials looking loosely at how we overcome these barriers.
I am determined to find a way to make overdose prevention facilities in Scotland a reality.
“Drug checking facilities is something we are discussing with the UK Government and there has been significant research at Stirling University to look at a drug checking programme for Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.
“The UK Government has not ruled it out, but they are less warm and not as keen on drug checking facilities as we are in Scotland.”
Clamping down on street pills
Ms Constance is also looking to tackle the increasing use of benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines are pill which can be sold on the streets for as little as 50p per pill, and are often referred to ‘street valium’ or ‘street blues’.
In 2019 benzodiazepines contributed to 814 drug deaths.
The minister says this is an area she wants to take action on and says she is working with the UK Government on pill press regulation – this would ban the ownership, use and sale of the equipment people use to make these pills.
She said: “Benzodiazepines can be sold very cheaply on the streets of Scotland so we are engaging with the National Crime Agency on this.
“We are also pursuing pill press regulation with the UK Government.”
She adds she would also like to see the Misuse of Drugs Act reformed, however this is a matter reserved to Westminster.
“Move away from this Victorian notion that we blame people”
Over the course of the next five years, Ms Constance is hoping to also break down the stigma of drug addiction and work to support women who struggle with addiction.
She says: “We also have to begin breaking down stigma.
We shouldn’t generalise addiction because it can happen to any family anywhere in Scotland.
“We shouldn’t generalise addiction because it can happen to any family anywhere in Scotland.
“We need to move away from this Victorian notion that we blame people – we can’t be blaming people for having an addiction, we need to support them and empower them to address it.
“The government recently announced the family and children fund, which is £3 million and looks to help fill the gaps for women and children.
“When you look at drug deaths in Dundee for example, a higher proportion of those dying are women, around 36%.
“There is also £450,000 from the drug deaths taskforce to help local health and social care partnerships and mental health and substance misuse teams work on the needs of women.
“We also need to make these services easy to access so people are not afraid to ask for help and make sure there are no barriers to them coming forward.
“We want them to be empowered to ask for help and for services to have an ethos of care and compassion, and to be able to stick with people through the good times and the bad, because we know the road to recovery will have ups and downs.”