The First Minister has been accused of “ignoring” the failures of her own government ahead of another anticipated rise in the country’s “shameful” drugs death rate.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon would not be drawn on whether the country should be braced for a further increase in the country’s drugs death rate, given the impact coronavirus has had on public services.
Ms Sturgeon pointed out work was ongoing under new minister for drugs policy Angela Constance, but the effects of it would not be seen in an upcoming statistical release.
The official drugs death figures, collated by National Records of Scotland (NRS) are scheduled to be published on Friday, with a number of recovery workers warning the death rate is likely to increase on last year.
Dundee West MSP Joe FitzPatrick resigned following the delayed publication of the 2019 figures in 2020, after his home city reclaimed its unwanted title as drugs death capital of Europe.
It is firmly on the SNP’s watch that drug deaths have risen to these shameful record highs year after year. They cannot ignore their failures that predates their belated action.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Sue Webber
Mr FitzPatrick was minister for public health at the time, responsible for overseeing the government’s response to drugs deaths.
Dundee has the highest rate of drug induced death in Scotland, a country which holds the unwanted title of having the highest rate in Europe.
The city recorded a 6% increase in fatalities in 2019, with Scotland’s death rate three times higher than the rest of the UK.
In 2019, 1,264 people died as a result of drug use or addiction.
Scotland has recorded a 177% increase in drugs deaths since 2007, when the SNP came into power.
During an election debate earlier this year, Ms Sturgeon admitted her government had “taken its eye off the ball” over the situation.
Asked on Tuesday whether the country should be “braced” for a further increase in the drug death rate, Ms Sturgeon said she would wait until the official release.
She said: “If I was to pre-empt those statistics (drugs death) I would no-doubt have someone reporting me to the chief statistician and I would have to answer questions next week around why we have done that.
“What I would say is the drugs death toll in Scotland, as I have tried to be candid about, is far too high, shamefully high and we have got to do more about it.
“We are doing a lot now to try to bring numbers down and we take full responsibility for that.
“Contextually, it is important to remember that the figures that will be published this week predate much of that activity. So I wouldn’t expect those interventions to have an impact on those figures.
“To what extent covid might have had, we will need to see what the statistics show and then consider that.
“No doubt there will be a lot more discussion about that when figures are published next week.”
Fourteen years “to tackle crisis”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Drugs Policy Sue Webber said: “The SNP have had 14 years in power to tackle Scotland’s drugs crisis.
“It is firmly on their watch that drug deaths have risen to these shameful record highs year after year. They cannot ignore their failures that predates their belated action.
“Nicola Sturgeon might have admitted she took her eye off the ball, but her Government should have been on top of this situation long before now. How many more families have to grieve a loved one before we see the SNP take the necessary action to tackle this crisis?
“It is time for the First Minister to finally commit to backing the Scottish Conservatives on our Right to Recovery bill. That would guarantee in law that everyone would get the rehab treatment they need.”