Former prisons chief David Strang appointed head of drug deaths taskforce
Mr Strang, a former senior police officer and chief inspector of prisons, will take over from Professor Catriona Matheson, who quit after being asked by minister Angela Constance to speed up the group’s final recommendations.
In a statement to Holyrood, Ms Constance said she still expected the final report to be published this summer, despite the protestations of Prof Matheson, who told the BBC she was not prepared to do a “rushed job”.
“(Mr Strang’s) appointment marks a new chapter for the taskforce which has been a valued contributor to the work being done across Scotland,” Ms Constance told MSPs.
“I have asked him and his colleagues on the task force to accelerate their final recommendations planned for this year, aiming to get those for the summer.
“As we focus now on delivery and change on the ground, we need quicker practical advice from the taskforce, building on what it has already provided and achieved.”
One of the key pillars touted by ministers to tackle the drug deaths crisis – which saw 1,339 Scots lose their lives in 2020 – is the creation of safe consumption rooms.
The facilities would allow drug users to inject in a safe environment with clinical staff on hand and additional services provided, but the idea has run into legal trouble in recent years.
The Home Office, which would have to provide an exemption to current drug laws, has steadfastly rejected the idea.
But the Scottish Government has pledged to continue on, looking for ways the facilities can be legally opened in Scotland.
A new proposal has been submitted by Glasgow’s health and social care partnership, which is being considered by ministers, Police Scotland and the Crown Office.
“We are serious about this commitment, as we know these facilities have a strong evidence base in saving lives and helping some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Ms Constance said.
“A fresh proposal will be made to the Lord Advocate once further detail on operation and policing is developed.”
During the debate on Thursday, Labour MSP Claire Baker said a motion tabled by Ms Constance did not recognise “the failure of the Scottish Government to act much earlier when fatalities began to spiral upwards”.
“While I fully recognise that addictions of the modern era in Scotland is fuelled by a significant industrial change, unemployment and deprivation, trauma and mental health, the responsibility of Government is to respond and the drugs death crisis represents a failure of Government in recent years,” she said.
She added: “It shows the devastating impact of what can happen if focus isn’t given to critical issues which were allowed to escalate as policies continued on the mistaken path.
“Lives could have been saved if action had been taken earlier.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said the progress of change was “painfully slow”.