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Public Health Minister claims UK Government ‘failing’ to engage on drugs deaths

Joe Fitzpatrick MSP
Joe Fitzpatrick MSP

A top Holyrood politician has accused the UK government of ignoring calls to engage with a task force which has been charged with tackling the nation’s drugs crisis.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick made the claim while discussing figures showing that 1,187 Scots died from drugs last year – the worst death rate in Europe.

Mr FitzPatrick confirmed the first meeting of the task force, chaired by Professor Catriona Matheson of Stirling University, would take place on Tuesday, September 17.

But the SNP politician noted that Westminster Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had not responded to either of the two letters he sent her over the summer recess.

He said: “The deaths caused by substance abuse are avoidable. This government, parliament and the nation needs to work together to address this emergency.

“We will continue to press the UK government to work with us on those vital issues to deliver change.

“We know opiate replacement therapies save lives, reduce crime and harm.”

David Liddell, the chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum, welcomed Mr Fitzpatrick’s statement and highlighted the need for improvements.

He said: “There is a need to improve access to treatment. People are currently waiting months for access to opioid substitution therapy.

“There is a general need to improve quality – potentially up to 50% of people receiving opioid substitution therapy are on sub-optimal doses.”

A UK Government spokesman said the Policing Minister wrote to Mr FitzPatrick yesterday.

He added: “Any death related to drug misuse is a tragedy and we are very concerned at the rate of drug deaths in Scotland.”

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