Drug and Alcohol-related Deaths

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 5 September 2019.

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Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

4. To ask the Scottish Government how it plans to include third sector organisations in its plans to tackle the rise in drug and alcohol-related deaths. (S5O-03492)

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I will give a statement on this later this afternoon, so I will try to avoid topics that I will cover in that.

The Scottish Government recognises and welcomes the support that third sector organisations offer. They played a key role in the development of “Rights, respect and recovery: alcohol and drug treatment strategy”, which was published in November 2018. We are now working with stakeholders, including the third sector, to finalise an action plan to support the strategy, which will be published in October. Third sector organisations are members of national working groups that advise ministers and provide advice on areas such as addressing stigma, workforce development and quality principles. They are also represented on the drug deaths task force, which will co-ordinate and drive action to improve health outcomes, reducing the risks of harm and death. I will speak more about that this afternoon.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Does the minister agree that many third sector organisations have the experience and capacity to tackle the prevention of drug issues upstream? Will the Scottish Government therefore commit to giving them an adequate proportion of funding in order to take advantage of that experience?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Since taking on the position of Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, I have visited a huge number of third sector and other organisations. When those organisations work in partnership with public services, I always see that they are able to provide services that are welcomed by the community.

It is important that we appropriately support organisations and make sure that people get the best possible treatment.

I know that Mr Whittle has visited the River Garden organisation, which I visited last year. It is an excellent example of a third sector organisation taking forward a groundbreaking principle—I think that it is the first example of its type across these islands. I am pleased that the Scottish Government was able to support River Garden to the tune of £125,000.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Will the minister advise the chamber how many drugs deaths were caused not by illegal but by legally prescribed drugs—such as sleeping pills and antidepressants—last year, and how third sector organisations can assist in raising awareness of those dangers?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government listens to experts from third sector organisations and other partners. Working with partners, we provide relevant and targeted information to the public to raise awareness of the dangers in order to improve health outcomes and reduce the risk of harm and deaths.

The National Records for Scotland “Drug Related Deaths in Scotland” report does not link to prescribing data. It is therefore not possible to identify whether a drug that was prescribed to a person was implicated in their death. However, NRS produces supplementary tables that show drug-related deaths by drug type. Those show that, for 2018, there were no drug-related deaths where the category of antidepressants was implicated in or potentially contributed to the drug-related death. However, other drugs—such as paracetamol—were implicated in or potentially contributed to a drug-related death in 23 cases. The NRS supplementary information lists nearly 250 drug types. I will write to Kenneth Gibson with a fuller answer in due course.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

The reality is that third sector and many other organisations are grossly underfunded and stretched to the max by the drugs crisis that we have. The

West Lothian Courier highlights today that, in that county, only 39 per cent of patients are seen by the local drug and alcohol services within three weeks, which NHS Lothian says is because of capacity and staffing issues.

Given that 1,200 people are dying on the streets, does the minister think that a paltry £10 million in additional resources is adequate to deal with the carnage that we see on the streets of Scotland today?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I am pleased to have been informed that there are plans in place to improve waiting times in West Lothian, as they are clearly not good enough. Around Scotland, waiting times have been improving, including across the NHS Lothian area, but the waiting times that people are experiencing in West Lothian are not acceptable and need to be improved.