By Lucy Ashton

Jackie Baillie has given her backing to a consultation on a Bill raised by Scottish Labour colleague Paul Sweeney MSP that will pave the way for Overdose Prevention Centres (OPCs) to be introduced in Scotland.

The introduction of the Drug Death Prevention (Scotland) Bill comes as Scotland’s drug death statistics reached a record high with 1,339 people dying from a drug related death in 2020, 93 percent of which were recorded as accidental overdoses.

West Dunbartonshire is one of the worst affected areas for drug deaths in Scotland with 29 people losing their lives to drugs in 2020, according to the latest figures published. This had increased from 18 a decade earlier.

The proposed Bill consultation seeks to provide a legal basis for establishing OPCs in Scotland; create a licensing framework that will govern and regulate OPCs; and replace the existing Scottish Drug Death Taskforce with a newly established Scottish Drug Death Council with complete operational independence from government and the appointment of board members subject to approval by the Scottish Parliament.

Currently, there are over 150 OPCs in operation around the world in countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Holland and Norway. Evidence from these facilities shows that they are incredibly effective at reducing the number of drug related deaths, and while they are not the only solution to Scotland’s drug death crisis, Jackie believes they could form part of the public health response.

Dumbarton constituency MSP, Jackie Baillie, pictured right, said: “I welcome any action to tackle the drugs death crisis in Scotland head-on and commend Paul Sweeney for bringing this consultation forward.

“In our communities in Dumbarton, the Vale of Leven, Balloch and Helensburgh, families have been destroyed because of people overdosing on drugs. This is devastating for them and the people around them. I commend the work of support agencies, most notably Alternatives, who have worked tirelessly over the years to try and tackle this scourge and improve the outcomes of people tangled in a web of addiction.

“But we must consider whether there is a need to do more. It is appalling that Scotland has the highest drug death rate in Europe and is a damning indictment on the SNP Government as Nicola Sturgeon marks the milestone of becoming the longest serving First Minister.

“As well as the ambition to open OPCs, which could reduce the number of drug deaths on their own, I am pleased that this consultation will also look at overhauling the watchdog established to try and tackle this public health emergency.

“The Scottish Drug Death Taskforce is not fit for purpose but the proposed Scottish Drug Death Council would be enshrined in law and would have operational independence from government. It will learn directly from the lived experience of people who currently use drugs or those who have in the past and is a vital tool in stopping more people from dying due to drugs.”

The most recent drugs death statistics, broken down by health board area, are available here: Drug-related Deaths in Scotland in 2020 | National Records of Scotland (nrscotland.gov.uk)

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