Calls made in Holyrood for more action on drugs crisis

Calls for more resources to be ploughed in to tackling the drugs death crisis have been made at Holyrood.

Labour’s Shadow Health Minister Paul O’Kane called for action in a debate on the issue, which comes one year after the launch of the Scottish Government’s national mission to tackle drugs deaths.

And he backed contested measures including heroin-assisted treatment and safe drug consumption facilities.

The West of Scotland list MSP pressed the Holyrood government on the need for Scotland’s drugs death toll to be treated as a “public health issue” and backed controversial heroin-assisted treatment and drug consumption facilities.

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He called for such measures to be introduced “quickly to save lives” and stressed the need for local services.

Mr O’Kane wants cash directed to councils to help them tackle issues at a grassroots level, citing work done in Inverclyde as an example.

He said: “The country’s drug deaths figure is chilling and over the last few years the crisis continually worsened – we have the highest deaths in the whole of the UK and Europe.

“Promises have to transform into action and pledges have to turn into financial investment that will go to local Councils and organisations who are dedicated to making a difference to this major public health issue”.

The politician added: “We should never lose sight of the fact that this is an issue that affects the very heart of communities, causing families pain and grief.”

“Scottish Labour will continue to be relentless in our scrutiny of the SNP Governments handling of this crisis and ensure everything is being done to save lives.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appointed MSP Angela Constance as her new Drugs Minister in December 2020 in a bid to tackle the nation’s drugs deaths toll.

A drugs deaths task force was also created to oversee a new approach but it too has been beset by problems after its head, Professor Catriona Matheson and her deputy, former Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson, quit in December in protest at what they saw as a rush job when they were asked to produce a report by the summer.

The task force was set up in July 2019 aimed at addressing Scotland’s consistently high drugs death toll – the highest per capita in Europe.

Calls have been made for decriminalisation in order to allow the country to foster a public health approach.

During the debate, Angela Constance told Parliament: ” I do not, of course, ignore the impact, for example, of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which I believe limits our public health approach, but I hope that members would agree that my attention has a disproportionate focus on the powers and opportunities that we have here in Scotland.”

Drugs Minister Angela Constance.

She described every drugs death as “a tragedy” and said that additional funding of £255 million had been committed to addressing the issue, with £5 million ploughed in for the end of the previous financial year and £50 million committed over the next five years – including £100 million over the term specifically for residential rehabilitation and aftercare, dedicated funding for “grassroots” organisations.

Extra funding had also been ploughed in to services during the pandemic to maintain services she said, when people were “more at risk”.

Naloxone can come in spray form
(Image: PA)

Availability of opiate-reversing Naloxone has also increased, with the drug now carried by ambulance technicians and police officers in several pilot areas.

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Daily Record – Paisley