Scotland’s drug policy minister has described new figures showing a further 722 people died from suspected drug deaths during the first half of this year as “appalling”.
The country is already suffering from by far the highest drug death rate recorded by any country in Europe, with a record 1,300 people dying from misuse last year.
A publication of the number of suspected drug deaths from January to June 2021 shows a small decrease of around 1% on the same period last year, but Angela Constance said the figure remains “unacceptably high”.
Greater Glasgow recorded the highest number of suspected drug deaths during the period, at 187, while Lanarkshire had 67, and both Edinburgh and Tayside recorded 64 deaths. Fife recorded a total of 31.
Meanwhile, there were a further 59 suspected drug deaths recorded in the North East region – 13 more than this time last year – and 25 in the Highlands and Islands.
The Scottish Government has committed to the quarterly publication of suspected drug death management information from Police Scotland – in addition to the annual National Statistics report from National Records Scotland – to provide more timely release of data on drug death trends.
It says the more frequent release is designed to ensure everyone involved in the national mission to tackle drug deaths “is aware of the challenge ahead”.
The latest figures show that in the first six months of 2021:
- There were nine fewer suspected drug deaths than the first six months of 2020.
- Males accounted for 72% of the deaths, compared to 76% during the same period last year.
- Just over two thirds (69%) of suspected drug deaths were of people aged between 35 and 54.
- There were 35 suspected drug deaths in the under-15 age group – 14 fewer than during the first six months of 2020.
A public health emergency
Drugs policy minister Angela Constance said: “Once again these figures are appalling. We are taking a vast range of actions to tackle this public health emergency, and we recognise the hard work and challenges ahead.
“More regular reporting of data on drug death trends in Scotland will ensure everyone involved in our national mission remains focussed on the work we must do to get more people into the treatment that is best suited for them as quickly as possible.
“We know that to do this we must create a more integrated, person-centred approach to treatment. We are therefore investing £2.3 million over the next three years in Health Improvement Scotland to ensure people are treated not only for their physical health addiction but their mental health too.”
Out of touch
Nicola Sturgeon admitted earlier this year that her government “took our eye off the ball” as Scotland racked up the worst drug deaths rate in Europe, and pledged to take a more direct role in tackling the crisis.
In an interview that aired on Monday night, the first minister admitted having no knowledge that hundreds of taxpayer-funded phones given to prisoners were being used to deal drugs.
Humza Yousaf, then justice secretary, said the phones were secure and their use would be “practical and safe”.
Scottish Conservative drug policy spokeswoman, Sue Webber, accused Ms Sturgeon of being “out of touch” with what is happening in Scotland’s streets and prisons.
The Scottish Conservatives have submitted an Urgent Question in the Scottish Parliament on reports that prisoners have hacked the supposedly “unhackable” phones.
Ms Webber said: “These new statistics are heartbreaking. If this appalling trend continues, drug deaths will increase again to another shameful record.
“Scotland’s drug deaths crisis keeps getting worse because Nicola Sturgeon is out of touch with what’s really happening on our streets and in prisons across the country.
“It’s shocking that the SNP Government appears to be clueless that hundreds of taxpayer-funded phones given to prisoners are being used by criminals to deal drugs. Nicola Sturgeon didn’t even know it was happening.”
The Scottish Tories are in the process of introducing a new Bill which would enshrine the rights of people in recovery to the treatment they request unless specifically rejected by a doctor on medical grounds.
Back the Bill
Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid spoke of his shock at the rise in deaths in the North East and urged the Scottish Government to back the Right to Recovery Bill.
He said: “Scotland is in the grip of a drugs crisis and the alarming rise in deaths under the SNP Government looks set to continue.
“It’s appalling and absolutely heartbreaking that the North East has had such a large increase in drug deaths, which was already shockingly high.
“Scotland’s drug death rate is close to four times higher than any other country in Europe and five times worth than England.
“These devastating trends should be a source of shame for the SNP Government who must take bold action, both on prevention and in making sure the right support is in place for people.”
Waiting for more detail
Speaking in front of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee on Tuesday, Ms Constance said she was open to backing the Bill but would wait to see the detail before making a final decision.
“I’m really keen to look at the Bill in detail, obviously it needs to be published before I can give it full consideration,” she told Tory health spokeswoman, Annie Wells.
Ms Constance added: “I have never ruled out the need for further legislation but I will want to test whether the Bill will do what it claims to do.”