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Scottish drug deaths rise by a ‘shocking’ 27 per cent in a year

Campaigners warn of austerity and a “removal of proper social safety nets” as a reason behind the “failing” response to soaring drug use in the country

Drug deaths in Scotland have soared by 27 per cent in just one year – and campaigners have pointed the finger at the “removal of the proper social safety nets”.

The National Records of Scotland figures revealed that 1,187 drug-related deaths were registered in Scotland in 2018. That’s the largest number ever recorded and continues on from the eight per cent rise recorded the year before.

The Scottish Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick has described the figures as “shocking” and pointed to the investment boost of £20 million a year that the Scottish Government has poured into their alcohol and drug strategy as well as setting up a Drugs Death Taskforce last month. The group will be assessing measures to reduce the number of deaths, including decriminalisation, which has been touted by a Daily Record campaign.

But campaigners have indicated that underinvestment in the social safety net is one of the main factors behind the deaths, warning that austerity has had a huge impact, while anger has also been directed at the UK government for both Universal Credit and a refusal to relax drug laws.

FitzPatrick said: “The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking. It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue, and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk.

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“Last week, I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee and I asked for help in persuading the UK government to either act now to enable us to implement a range of public health focused responses – including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities – or devolve the power to the Scottish Parliament so that we can act.

“I am determined to shape our services in every walk of life to prevent harm and reduce the appalling number of deaths.”

Drugs charity Release’s executive director Niamh Eastwood has pointed to the lack of a drug consumption room in Glasgow and the UK government’s failure to allow one to be put in place as contributing to the shocking figures.

A total of 86 per cent of deaths were put down to heroin, morphine or methadone, while benzodiazepines such as diazepam and etizolam were found to be behind 67 per cent of the deaths.

“This decision by Westminster has contributed to the increasing drug-related deaths in Scotland and has tied the hands of Holyrood and drug treatment experts in Scotland,” said Eastwood. “With drug-related deaths at an all-time high in Scotland the UK government must now give the green light to the establishment of an overdose prevention site or risk responsibility for further deaths.”

She added: “We also cannot ignore the impact that austerity measures have had on people in some of the most deprived areas of the country, including parts of Scotland. The removal of proper social safety nets as we have witnessed with benefit cuts and the introduction of Universal Credit are also significant contributors to these appalling statistics.”

And Turning Point Scotland’s practice and development lead for alcohol and drugs Patricia Tracey painted a picture of the scale of the issue, warning the number of deaths have almost topped the charity’s 1,300-strong workforce.

“Each year, when these figures are published we are confronted with an uncomfortable truth that we manage to, if not ignore then at least keep to one side; our approach to problematic drug use is failing,” she said.

“We need to look across our criminal justice, homelessness, mental health, education, social work services.  We all need to ask ourselves how we can do better for the people who are falling through the net of our public services.”

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