Independence won’t prevent drug deaths - Sue Webber

The remarkable Annemarie Ward experienced childhood sexual abuse and recovered from drug addiction and is one of Scotland’s most passionate campaigners for the rights of addicts to receive proper treatment.

By Sue Webber
Friday, 5th August 2022, 7:00 am
Conservative MSP Susan Webber
Conservative MSP Susan Webber

The founding chief executive of Faces and Voices of Recovery UK, the charity dedicated to improving the lives of people suffering from addiction, she’s been fighting what looks like a losing battle with the Scottish Government to face up to their responsibility and tackle Scotland’s appalling record.

Shame, disgrace, scandal … it’s hard to describe the unrelenting family misery which is the product of the SNP’s failure to deal with the highest drug-related death-toll in Europe. When Annemarie founded her charity in 2013 there were 526 drug-related deaths in Scotland and figures published last week show 1330 Scots died from their addictions last year. 109 of them were in Edinburgh, an 18 per cent increase on 2020.

The Scottish drugs death rate is 3.7 times that of the UK, and since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister in 2014 some 8,000 Scots have lost their lives to drugs. If that figure seems staggering, then if the rest of the country had followed the Scottish approach of abandoning rehab and relying on the life-rotting methadone programme, approximately 12,000 British people alive today would have died last year.

Yet the SNP insists the problem is Westminster’s because the UK Government has not legalised safe consumption rooms, as if what addicts really need is to pump more drugs into their veins. Legalising drugs might empty our prisons, but it will not break lifetimes of dependency which too often end in avoidably early deaths.

The unarguable statistics show the SNP’s approach is literally fatally flawed, yet the recent 130-page report from its Drugs Death Task Force had very little new to say. But at least it called for fast action and laid the responsibility on Ms Sturgeon’s desk.

Yet when the latest figures showed deaths were down by just nine, from 1339 last year, all she had to say was “there is much more to do”. You don’t say, but what?

The truth is the Scottish Government will not listen, to the extent that Annemarie Ward walked out of a meeting with civil servants this week in disgust. “I can no longer tolerate this level of bullshit. I don't have the emotional capacity anymore to play the long game,” she said on social media.

“The social distance between what’s happening on the ground in real life, and in the politically and linguistically correct, bureaucratic, naive middle-class corridors of power couldn't be further apart,” she wrote.

Annemarie has helped develop the Scottish Conservatives’ Right to Recovery Bill, but here’s the thing, she’s an SNP member. Nor can comedian Kevin Bridges be described as a Tory sympathiser, but last weekend he too attacked the SNP’s approach to alcohol and drugs, claiming poor people are being pushed towards cheap and deadly street drugs.

That so many communities are blighted is beyond doubt, yet the instinct of the SNP and their letter-writers to the Evening News is to blame the constitution. Annemarie Ward wants to stop people dying but they see it as an opportunity for an argument about independence. Scotland deserves so much better than this.

Lothian Scottish Conservatives MSP Sue Webber is the Shadow Minister for Drugs Policy