Scotland's drug-deaths scandal: As hundreds continue to lose their lives and others rely on state-procured methadone, does Nicola Sturgeon have any regrets? – Susan Dalgety

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The young (ish) woman bounced into the pharmacy. “It’s me,” she called out to the staff, before joining the rest of us in the queue for prescriptions.

She didn’t have to wait long before being called into a small consultation room where, in full view, she was handed a plastic cup of green-blue liquid. Methadone. Green. Jungle Juice. The opioid prescribed to thousands of Scots as a heroin substitute, and which kills hundreds a year. “See you tomorrow,” she shouted as she ran out of the shop, back to her daily life.

No one batted an eyelid. In pharmacies across Lothian, this scene is played out every day. It’s part of the fabric of life. Men and women whose lives have been reduced to a constant search for drugs – legal or otherwise – and who, far too often, die prematurely.

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Two days after I witnessed this scene, the Scottish Government published figures which showed that suspected drug deaths in Scotland have reached their highest recorded number in a single calendar quarter since 2021. Nearly 300 people died from October to December last year, with 113 of those deaths in Edinburgh city alone.

Lothian MSP and drugs policy minister Angela Constance mouthed her government’s usual platitudes about the humanitarian crisis that has seen thousands of Scots die over the last decade. Efforts are ongoing to assess what more needs to be done, she said, pointing to the £250 million her government has set aside for the purpose.

Barely had her staff issued the minister’s words than the Edinburgh Bar Association reported on social media that there have been no new drug treatment and testing orders (DTTO) imposed at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for nearly a year. “… As drug deaths continue to rise, users are deprived of vital support and the public subjected to drug-related crime,” the association tweeted.

These orders – which require an offender to accept treatment for drug misuse, with support provided by social work and health staff – are not a panacea for drug deaths. But as Karyn McCluskey, chief executive of Community Justice Scotland, pointed out in a recent Scotsman article, they can kickstart recovery. So with drug deaths on the rise again, it is a matter of significant public concern that here in Edinburgh the scheme has been effectively mothballed. So much for the First Minister’s “national mission” to reduce drug deaths, announced in 2021.

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In a week’s time, Nicola Sturgeon leaves Bute House for the last time. As she turns out the lights, I wonder if she will stop for a moment in the darkness to ponder her legacy. Baby boxes for all. Free prescriptions for those who can well afford them. And the 7,627 Scots who died of drug misuse from 2015 to 2021.

On the drive back to Glasgow, will she shed a tear for those parents who watched helplessly as street drugs killed their child? And will she regret failing in her national mission to stop the public health emergency that has seen communities shattered and hundreds of young men and women dependent on state-procured opioids? I look forward to reading her memoir to find out.

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