Douglas Ross urges change in approach to ‘heart-breaking’ drug deaths

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has now called for the Scottish Government to back his Right to Recovery Bill.

28 July 2022

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has called the latest drug death figures “heart-breaking” as he urged Holyrood ministers to change their approach to the issue.

Douglas Ross spoke out after the National Records of Scotland (NRS) revealed on Thursday that there were 1,330 drug-related deaths in 2021 – just nine less than in 2020.

He has now called for the Scottish Government to back his Right to Recovery Bill, which is set to go before Parliament later this year.

The legislation would enshrine in law the right of those with addiction problems to receive potentially life-saving treatment.

Mr Ross said: “The enormity of this national emergency is laid bare in this heart-breaking toll of fatalities.

“These figures are a badge of shame for Nicola Sturgeon, who has presided over a huge escalation in Scotland’s drug-deaths epidemic during her time in office.

“But, amid the statistics, we must never forget that every individual who has died has left behind grieving friends and families.

“Scotland’s drug-deaths rate is not merely worse than that of any other European nation. It’s so off-the-scale bad, so uniquely awful, that the SNP Government have to accept their current approach isn’t working.”

The Highlands and Islands MSP added: “It was a shameful admission by Nicola Sturgeon that she took her eye off the ball with drugs deaths. Now she and the SNP need to get behind Right to Recovery.

“The Bill addresses one of the biggest obstacles those with addiction issues face in turning their lives around – namely accessing treatment programmes, including residential rehab.”

The Scottish Greens said it was “welcome” to see a slight reduction in the number of recorded deaths, but health spokeswoman Gillian Mackay added that “much more work is required to address this public health emergency”.

“Every single one of these deaths is a preventable tragedy. The figures published today remind us of the devastating impact addiction has on communities across Scotland,” she said.

“The war on drugs approach, pursued for decades in this country, has evidently failed. It is long past time that we adopted an approach which focuses on restoring people’s dignity and treating their addiction, rather than criminalising them.”

Meanwhile, Dr Susanna Galea-Singer, co-chair of the Addictions Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said it is encouraging to see a small decrease in deaths – but said the country must not become complacent.

Dr Galea-Singer said: “The Scottish Government must look at realistic and carefully considered drug addiction services for the health, social care and third sector. These services need to be sustainable over time.

“Other socio-economic issues such as deprivation also needs to be addressed, as we know there are close links between poverty and drug misuse.”

Professor Roy Robertson, fellow of The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: “As an annual reminder of the harms caused by drugs, the NRS figures are an important opportunity to reflect on progress, as well as what more could be done.”

He added: “We need a strategy for expanding knowledge and education, both of which are critical in understanding and responding to a medical crisis affecting many areas of medicine.

“It would be proper to see policy-makers engaged with educational and academic institutions as well as clinicians, and we’d like to see a strategy that could put addictions on the same footing as other major health departments.”

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