Drug addicts from Holland are getting “better access” than users here to a specialist in-patient addiction centre in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has been told.
Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw claimed the Castle Craig rehab centre in Peeblesshire was “mostly being kept going” by patients from the Netherlands, as it was “not receiving NHS referrals”.
He pressed the First Minister on the issue as he called for action to tackle Scotland’s drugs “crisis”.
He asked Ms Sturgeon: “Isn’t the First Minister, like me, concerned that Dutch patients are getting better access to this Scottish rehabilitation project than Scots locally in need of the same support and treatment?”
Official figures showed there were 934 drug-related deaths in 2017 – a record total which was more than double the total a decade ago.
Police Scotland meanwhile seized 118.6kg of heroin from dealers in 2017-18 – up from 54.1kg the previous year.
Mr Carlaw said: “Over the last 10 years the SNP has launched two major drugs strategies and during those 10 years drug deaths have tragically now doubled.
“We are now on course to have the largest number of deaths per head than anywhere else in Europe.”
He raised the issue of a recovery cafe for addicts in Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow which is facing closure, as well as the lack of Scottish patients being referred to Castle Craig.
The Tory asked: “How can it be right that we are prioritising spending millions of the pounds we do spend on methadone programmes, and successful projects like this are otherwise put at risk?”
Ms Sturgeon told him she was “happy to look into” the issue of referrals to Castle Craig, and stressed the importance of “recovery communities”, noting that the Scottish Government funds the Scottish Recovery Consortium.
But she said drug addiction was a “challenging and complex issue”, as she called on the Conservatives to support proposals for a drugs consumption room to be established in Glasgow.
The Home Office has so far failed to grant approval for such a centre to be set up, and Ms Sturgeon told her Tory rival it was important to support “evidence-based new approaches even if at first they seem to be very challenging, particularly for public opinion”.
He insisted the Conservatives “fundamentally disagree” with calls to set up a medically supervised injecting room.
“The policy should be to get people clean of drugs, not to provide opportunities where they can take them,” Mr Carlaw said.
Ms Sturgeon argued: “It’s important we work with health and social care partnerships on new approaches, as well as making sure we are investing in rehabilitation.
“And I hope that is something the Conservatives will think about giving us support on because we do need to persuade the UK Government to do what is required.”