Lothian MSP voices concern over high level of benzos involved in region's rising drug deaths
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The region saw an increase in the number of people who died from drug misuse from 159 in 2020 to 180 in 2021 despite a slight fall in the figures for Scotland as a whole. Benzodiazepine was implicated in 134 of those 180 deaths – 77 per cent of the total.
Mr Briggs said he understood a growing number of people were buying drugs online and they were getting though customs, partly because of the increase in internet shopping.
"Apparently there is quite a high trade in benzos coming from Japan now and the strength of that is so potent it is sometimes killing people when you mix them with other drugs.”
He has written to Drugs Policy Minister and fellow Lothian MSP Angela Constance to raise his concerns about the number of people dying in Lothian, as well as the rest of Scotland, from drug misuse where multiple drugs are involved.
He wrote: “Benzodiazepines appear to have had a bigger negative impact on Scotland’s public health in recent years than any other drug, with “street” benzodiazepine being particularly dangerous for drug users.”
He said he was also “extremely concerned” at the number of drug deaths where an opioid was implicated in a person’s death. In Lothian 160 out of 180 drug deaths included an opioid.
And he pointed out methadone was implicated in 100 deaths – more than heroin, which was implicated in 74. He said it reinforced his belief that treating opioid addiction with methadone was not the right approach.
He told the Evening News: “I have previously called for a review of methadone and I think people are increasingly asking about the methadone programme. I met campaigners the other day and one woman’s brother had been on methadone for 40 years and then had an overdose. I think there is a need to look at the programme again. I don’t know why ministers have been so reluctant. In Lothian the situation is getting worse, not better.
“Something is going desperately wrong here in Lothian. I don’t know if it’s because of underfunding of the service or capacity issues or the lack of access to rehab facilities. All these issues are very much back to the fore and we haven’t seen any action from ministers even though they have declared a public health emergency.”
He said it was clear that drug users were taking a concoction of drugs which was putting them at far greater risk and leading to higher drug deaths across Scotland.
"SNP and Green ministers must get on board with the Scottish Conservatives’ Right to Rehab Bill, to ensure that everyone who needs rehabilitation for drugs has access to it.”
And he urged Ms Constance to review drug policy in Scotland to place a greater focus on rehabilitation as well as more campaigns and education to emphasise to people the danger of drugs.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the situation with drug deaths in Scotland remains "unacceptable" and the Scottish Government will continue "at pace" to address the emergency.