Scotland drug and alcohol deaths: How Conservatives are pushing SNP to tackle longstanding health crisis – Miles Briggs MSP

The public health emergency around drug and alcohol addiction in Scotland is a national scandal and one which is showing no signs of being turned around.

Scotland must do more to reduce the number of deaths from drugs and alcohol (Picture: John Devlin)
Scotland must do more to reduce the number of deaths from drugs and alcohol (Picture: John Devlin)

Drug deaths in Scotland are more the three-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK and highest of any European country. Year on year, we get the statistics for alcohol and drug-related deaths and, year on year, a greater number of Scots die from both of these causes.

In Lothian, the number of people who died from alcohol in 2020, the latest figures available, was 184. This compares to 127 deaths from alcohol in 2011, when the SNP fully took over government.

The number of drug deaths in Lothian has increased for the last five years in a row, with 159 people dying from drugs in 2020. That number has more than doubled since 2011, when 73 people lost their lives.

Every single drug and alcohol death is a tragedy and my deepest condolences are with the families and friends, across Edinburgh and the Lothians, who have lost a loved one to these causes.

It is distressing that the number of people dying from alcohol and drugs continues to rise and consecutive SNP ministers haven’t had the answers to reduce the number of people dying.

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Earlier this month the Scottish Conservatives were able to bring the Right to Recovery Bill before Parliament. This landmark bill, which was lodged by the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, received the support of 33 members, including Labour’s Monica Lennon and Jackie Baillie. The legislation would enshrine in law the right of everyone to receive the potentially life-saving treatment and support they need, including, where appropriate, residential rehabilitation.

The number of available rehabilitation beds in Scotland has been decreasing whilst the number of people who are dying from alcohol and drugs is increasing.

Early last year, the Scottish Conservatives secured £20 million for residential rehabilitation programmes after repeated calls for more support to drug rehab programmes. This money is being used to replace historic cuts by SNP ministers to these programmes and alcohol and drug partnerships.

To reduce the number of people who are dying from drugs and alcohol every year in Edinburgh and the Lothians, it will take a concerted effort by everyone. Waiting times for drug and alcohol treatment in Lothian are longer than other parts of Scotland with one in five patients not being seen within the three-week waiting time standard. Consistent underfunding of NHS Lothian puts staff under more pressure and makes it harder deliver the same level of service as other parts of Scotland.

Last month at Holyrood, I called on SNP ministers to allocate funding specifically for alcohol services, in addition to that allocated to alcohol and drug partnerships for drug services.

In 2020, the number of people who tragically died because of alcohol in Scotland increased by 17 per cent to 1,190. It is unacceptable that there are currently no plans to introduce alcohol specific treatment targets until 2024.

SNP ministers must give alcohol and drug addiction the focus required to turn around this long-standing health crisis in Scotland.

Miles Briggs is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothian