DRUG ABUSE: Humza Yousaf must finally focus on drugs deaths crisis

Monday 21 August 2023

First Minister Humza Yousaf and Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

By Bill Heaney

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross is urging Humza Yousaf to finally take action on Scotland’s drugs deaths emergency by backing his bill to save lives.

The leader of Scotland’s main opposition party made the call ahead of tomorrow’s (Tuesday) publication by National Records of Scotland of the drug-related deaths figure for 2022.

In 2021, there were 1,330 fatalities, meaning Scotland’s death rate was 4.9 times higher than that of England and Wales, and 3.8 times higher than that of the next worst European nation, Norway.

The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland soared during Nicola Sturgeon’s time in office and the SNP is now planning to decriminalise drugs.

Douglas Ross is demanding that her successor instead lends support to his landmark Right to Recovery Bill. 

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross MSP said: “It’s impossible to overstate the scale of Scotland’s drugs death crisis – this is truly a national emergency.

“The fatality rate is so much worse here than in the rest of Europe, and the rest of the UK, that it demands the full attention of the Scottish government after years of shameful neglect by the SNP.

“Humza Yousaf must learn from Nicola Sturgeon’s mistakes and finally treat this issue as a top priority to massively reduce the number of Scottish families enduring needless, heart-breaking loss.

“I would hope – and expect – to see a substantial fall on last year’s appalling total but, even if this is the case, Scotland will likely continue to be an appalling outlier for the continent.

“One of the biggest issues facing those with addiction problems is accessing treatment.

“That’s why the Right to Recovery Bill I’m taking through Parliament is crucial – as it would enshrine in law the right of everyone to receive the potentially life-saving treatment they need – and why it is backed by experts, charities and those with lived experience.

“Humza Yousaf made encouraging noises about supporting the bill during the SNP leadership election but has been quiet since. Worryingly, he appears to be advocating the decriminalisation of drugs instead.

“We need the SNP to stop dithering and get full square behind the Right to Recovery Bill. Tackling Scotland’s drugs deaths shame must finally be a top priority for Humza Yousaf and his government.”

Also, ahead of the publication of annual drug deaths figures, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has called on Humza Yousaf to end the “national shame” of drug deaths in Scotland.

In 2021, there were 1,330 drug deaths in Scotland, a rate of 250 per million people. This represents a drug death rate five times higher than that of London, with 47.6 deaths per million.

The rate of drug deaths in Scotland is currently three and a half times higher than anywhere else in Europe.

Mr Cole-Hamilton, pictured left, said:  “Like many, I am dreading the publication of these figures.  Every drug death is preventable, so I will never understand why Nicola Sturgeon, by her own admission, took her eye off the ball and slashed tens of millions from essential services.  

“With deaths that are now many times worse than anywhere else in Europe, Humza Yousaf must do what his predecessor failed to do and put an end to this national shame.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see the immediate introduction of specialist drug commissions, safe consumption spaces and the decriminalisation of drug misuse so that people receive treatment instead of prison time. It’s time to stop people dying.”

To stop people from dying, Scottish Liberal Democrats would:  

  • Establish heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces.
  • Establish new specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Commissions to help provide wraparound services and to take a holistic approach to those reported for drug offences, leaning from best international practice such as that in Portugal.
  • Divert people caught in possession of drugs for personal use into education, treatment and recovery, ceasing imprisonment in these circumstances.
  • Adopt the principle that individuals and families shouldn’t have to pay for the care and treatment of those at risk of death from drugs and alcohol.

Last year’s NRS report on drug-related deaths can be found here: https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/statistics-and-data/statistics/statistics-by-theme/vital-events/deaths/drug-related-deaths-in-scotland/2021

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