Drug deaths toll needs urgent action from all parties – Miles Briggs

1187 deaths in Scotland last year were drug-related. Picture: Toby Williams
1187 deaths in Scotland last year were drug-related. Picture: Toby Williams
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MSPs should work together to combat this public health emergency – and the First Minister must provide clear leadership, says Scottish Conservatives health spokesman

Evening News readers will be sadly aware of the shocking drug death statistics which were published last month, which revealed that last year 1187 people in Scotland ­suffered a drug-related death, up 27 per cent from the year before.

Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for the Lothian region

Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for the Lothian region

A total of 152 of those drug-related deaths were here in NHS Lothian, which have increased by more than half compared to 2015.

Last week, a report from the National Records of Scotland showed that life expectancy in Scotland has stalled in part due to the rise in drug deaths, with the report stating that, “the largest causes of the stall in life expectancy are the slowing of improvements seen in the reduction of deaths from heart disease and increases in drug related deaths”.

Alcohol and Drug Partnership staff across Lothian work incredibly hard to provide treatment for patients with alcohol and drug addictions. However, Scottish Government cuts to funding and poor workforce planning has made a difficult job even harder.

Last month it was reported that the Edinburgh Integrated Joint Board had also failed to utilise £1.4 million of funding for alcohol and drug treatments. It is inexcusable that funds that were meant for drug and alcohol services have been withheld and ­unutilised for more than a year. Waiting times for Alcohol and Drug Partnerships in Lothian are higher than anywhere else in Scotland and these were funds that they badly needed over the last year.There needs to be a major redesign of alcohol and drugs services in Lothian and across Scotland, with a redirection of funding into rehabilitation, recovery and wrap-around support services. As we mark 20 years since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves how we have managed to reach a point where as a nation we have the highest drug deaths in the world.

That is why, for our part, ­Scottish Conservatives have called for a ­cross-party summit on Scotland’s drug emergency and for the First Minister to show personal leadership on this tragic and pressing issue. We have called on SNP Ministers to set a clear target to halve the number of drug deaths in Scotland over the next five years and increase the number of drug users accessing treatment to 60 per cent.

In November last year I launched the Scottish Conservatives drug strategy, at the centre of which is a call for a personalised Life Plan for every drug user so that, rather than simply managing addiction, all policy and intervention is designed to support users into rehabilitation and services.

The strategy also includes a ‘second chance’ plan that would mean that drug users caught for the first time could choose to avoid having a criminal record, so long as they agree to attend Local Commissions and receive treatment if necessary. Above all we need to get serious about taking action to stop the creation of a new generation of addicts and problematic drug users. I have personally spent the ­parliamentary summer recess travelling around Scotland meeting with and listening to those at the front line of drug and addiction services in order to develop new Scottish Conservative thinking and proposals, and I will be constructively engaging with the ­Scottish Government’s new drugs deaths taskforce.

It is clear that the approach in ­Scotland is simply not working and has led to the public health ­emergency we see today. I hope all political ­parties returning to Holyrood will make a new national approach the ­priority it so desperately needs to be. For many of our fellow Scots it is ­literally a ­matter of life and death.

Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for the Lothian region.