Drug Deaths

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

7. To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking in response to the reported increasing number of drug deaths. (S5F-03157)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Our national alcohol and drug strategy, which was published last November, sets out a range of measures to prevent drug-related harm. The strategy’s focus is on improving how we support those who need support and how we address the wider issues that affect them. It outlines how we will work with and fund partners to strengthen links between traditional addiction services and initiatives in housing, mental health services and the third sector. That is backed by an additional £20 million a year for drug and alcohol services. The investment has been allocated to support new approaches that respond in a more joined-up and person-centred way to the needs of those who are most at risk.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

The current approach clearly is not working, First Minister. There were 934 drug-related deaths in 2017 and, sadly, everything suggests that the figure for 2018 may be significantly higher. We are facing a public health crisis. Scottish ministers have the power to establish a public inquiry into any matter in which there is a large loss of life and/or serious health and safety issues. This situation clearly meets both of those criteria. Will the First Minister urgently establish a statutory inquiry into Scotland’s drug deaths crisis and commit to acting on its findings in order to end this on-going tragedy?

The First Minister:

I absolutely agree about the seriousness of the issue. I am not immediately persuaded that a public inquiry would be the best way forward, but, of course, we will consider any proposal that is made.

Any death from drugs is one too many. Of course, many of the people whom we, sadly, see dying from drugs have lived with alcohol and drug use for a long time and become more vulnerable as they grow older. The 2018 drug-related deaths report showed that there had been fewer deaths among the under-25s than in the previous year. Recent reports also highlight falling heroin use, particularly in the under-25 age group. There is absolutely no room for complacency, but that is an important contextual point to make.

We want to look at different ways of addressing the issues. For example, we have supported Glasgow City Council in its request to set up medically supervised safer consumption facilities. We want to treat the issues much more as public health issues, bringing together different agencies. As we do that, we are, of course, prepared to consider any proposal that is made, and I will consider the one that John Finnie has made today.

The Presiding Officer:

That brings us to the end of First Minister’s question time. I say to colleagues that, despite making good progress in the past couple of weeks, the questions and answers were too long this afternoon. We need to revisit that, please, otherwise I will have to cut off members. [

Laughter

.] That was a rather unfortunate pun, I think. [

Interruption

.] It is typical of the press to pick up on that.

Before we move to members’ business, we will have a short suspension, to allow the chamber and the gallery to clear, and for members to change seats.

12:47 Meeting suspended.

12:48 On resuming—