Drug-related death figures for Scotland have set a six-year-long record, leaving the country, once again, with the worst rate in Europe and three and a half times worse than England and Wales.
Speaking about the crisis, first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said it is ‘completely unacceptable’ and ‘indefensible’, adding that her government had ‘much to do to sort this out’ and to save more lives.
Last year (2019), the number of deaths rose to a record 1,264 – double the number of 2014 and the worst rate in Europe.
Ms Sturgeon apologised to the families of those who had died and had been ‘let down’, adding ‘this is difficult and complex, but that is not an excuse – these figures tell us that we need to do more and do it quickly’.
Opposition parties have blamed the government for funding cuts to rehabilitation services. Scottish Conservative group leader Ruth Davidson said more funding must be committed to avoid a repeat of the ‘horrendous’ figures in the future.
The availability of rehab beds and the amount of money the government commits to drug and alcohol partnerships has also been questioned.
Despite the availability of 365 rehab beds in facilities across Scotland, it has been confirmed that around 100 are taken up by patients from other countries.
The First Minister said the government was unsatisfied that the number of rehab beds available was ‘necessarily sufficient or that they are being used sufficiently’.
A government spokesperson said the high number of deaths comes from a long-running and complex set of challenges, with no shortcut available to solve the issue.
One of the biggest challenges is said to be the large number of people in the 35-54 age group, who have been taking opioid drugs for many years, but who were not engaging with services to help them.
The Scottish government has made repeated requests to the UK government, to allow so-called safe consumption rooms to be set up.
Consumption rooms are a harm reduction initiative aimed at providing a safe and clean place for drug users to take substances.
Supervised by trained staff, consumption rooms are increasingly being seen overseas in countries such as Canada and Australia.
But the UK government rebuts the claim, saying it is not convinced that they work and describing them as a distraction from efforts to tackle the wider problem.
Nicola Sturgeon has said she will chair a meeting of the drug deaths taskforce in January (2021), to set out what ‘immediate steps’ can be taken.
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