Minister says figures are “heart-breaking”
Drink and drugs are the scourge of Scotland. Picture by Bill Heaney
By Lucy Ashton
Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance has described the increase in drug-related deaths as “heart-breaking”, and reiterated the Scottish Government’s determination to continue its work to address the crisis.
National Records of Scotland figures show there were 1,339 deaths, an increase of 5% on 2019 and the highest figure on record.
From September, there will be quarterly reporting of suspected drug deaths to enable better surveillance and response from all those involved in tackling this public health emergency.
A national mission on the crisis was announced in January following the appointment of Angela Constance in December 2020 to the newly created post of Drugs Policy Minister.
Since then the Scottish Government has announced that £250 million will be spent on addressing the emergency over the next five years.
An immediate priority is getting more people into treatment and £100 million will go towards improving and increasing the provision of residential rehabilitation while £4 million is being spent on the implementation of MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) standards.
The new standards ensure everyone has access to the support which works best for them, no matter where they live. Same day support will start to be rolled out from this autumn with all of the standards in place by April next year.
Other measures introduced so far this year as part of the national mission include:
- funds totalling £18 million for improving outreach services and support for families, and increasing residential rehabilitation provision
- £4 million on the expansion of the provision of long-lasting buprenorphine (Buvidal) into the wider community following a successful pilot in prisons
- £400,000 on expanding the existing Heroin-Assisted Treatment facility in Glasgow – exploring its use in other parts of Scotland
- £3 million to services to expand near-fatal overdose pathways
- £3 million to expand the range of outreach services so that treatment and support are available regardless of where people live
- £13.5 million for Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships to support local and national initiatives
- guidance being finalised by a Drug Deaths Taskforce Working Group on the consistent prescribing of benzodiazepine
- Ms Constance writing to the UK Minister for Policing to push for action on the regulation of pill presses, drug checking facilities and overdose prevention facilities
- consultations with stakeholders on the formation of a National Collaborative (Forum) to focus on the voices of people with lived or living experience and families
Ms Constance, pictured right, said: “Once again, the statistics on drug-related deaths are heart-breaking. I want to offer my sincere condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one through drug use.
“We need to gather as much information as we can about drug use in Scotland and to that end, data on suspected drug deaths will be published quarterly from this September. This will ensure we can react more quickly and effectively to this crisis and identify any emerging trends.
“We are working hard to get more people into the treatment that works for them as quickly as possible. Without treatment, there is little hope of recovery so we are funding as many community and third sector initiatives as we can so that individuals have the widest possible choice and can opt for the support which suits them and their family.
“Of the £250 million announced over the next five years, £100 million will go on improving the provision of residential rehabilitation and I will update Parliament on progress in this area after the summer recess.
“As I have said before, I am determined that every penny of this additional funding will make a difference to all those affected by drug use in Scotland.”
Drug Deaths Taskforce Chair Professor Catriona Matheson said: “Every drug-related death in Scotland is an avoidable tragedy, and these figures serve to remind us of the importance and urgency of our mission to identify the areas of action that can make a sustainable impact against the challenge.
“We believe the approach of putting evidence into action has saved lives, and we will analyse the detail behind the headlines and look to build upon those areas showing progress and to address those areas requiring more attention.
“Both the causes of, and the solutions to, the challenge we all face are complex, at its heart are real people at real risk, and we continue to be determined to make difference for them.”
Lothians & Edinburgh Abstinence Programme Clinical Lead Dr David McCartney said: “All of us who work in addiction treatment are appalled at the high level of drug-related deaths in Scotland. Having a wide range of treatment options that are holistic, reduce harm, promote recovery and are integrated into a recovery oriented system of care is essential to address the crisis. I welcome the Scottish Government’s investment in residential rehabilitation treatment as part of the wider approach under the National Mission.”
Andrew Horne, director of the drug, alcohol and mental health charity With You, said: “With You remains concerned and saddened by the tragic and continual increase in the numbers of lives lost due to problems with drugs. Every drug-related death is preventable, and each death has a huge impact on families and communities, continuing to be felt years down the line. Our thoughts are with the thousands of people who have lost a loved one in the past year.
“We have a mountain to climb to reverse these alarming figures but with the recently strengthened commitment and decisive action now being taken, we are hopeful that change is possible.
“New investment in outreach teams for people who have had a non-fatal overdose or who have dropped out of treatment marks a significant step forward, as does the improved support for people transitioning from prison into the community. Changes to enable quicker access to appointments and more choice over treatment, as standard across Scotland, are also positive.
“These figures are stark, but with new initiatives, clear standards and high expectations of services and partnership working, they can be brought down.”
Meanwhile, reports Bill Heaney, responding to the official statistics showing 1,339 people died of drug-related deaths in 2020, an increase of 5% from 2019, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, pictured left, commented: “This will be a terribly hard day for all those who lost a loved one last year. Each and every life lost is a tragedy.
“Every drug death is preventable. However, that task became ten times harder when SNP ministers avoided the subject ahead of the independence referendum, as that justice secretary admitted, and then cut the budget for critical prevention services by 22%.
“Help and expertise that people relied upon was needlessly surrendered when it should have been expanded.
“It was Nicola Sturgeon’s choice to ignore this unfolding epidemic. Issuing apologies now is too late for thousands of people. The victims of drugs and their families were failed. It is a scar on the conscience of this Scottish Government.”
- The quarterly reporting of suspected drug deaths is the result of a collaboration led by the Scottish Government with NRS, Police Scotland and Public Health Scotland to improve data and surveillance.
BIG DOPE: A special article on drug taking by Scottish journalist Madeleine Kearns will appear in The Dumbarton Democrat on Tuesday. Not to be missed.