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Minister says fatalities ‘still too high’ after drop in suspected drugs deaths

Drugs policy minister Angela Constance said numbers of suspected drugs deaths were ‘still far too high’ after the latest quarterly figures were released. (Jane Barlow/PA)
Drugs policy minister Angela Constance said numbers of suspected drugs deaths were ‘still far too high’ after the latest quarterly figures were released. (Jane Barlow/PA)

Drug deaths in Scotland are “still far too high”, a Scottish Government minister said as new figures showed there were 285 suspected fatalities recorded in the first three months of 2022.

Angela Constance, the drugs policy minister, spoke as a new Government report showed suspected drugs deaths remained at a “similar level” to the previous two quarters.

However, the total is down by over a quarter (27%) when compared to January to March 2021, when there were 393 such deaths.

The Scottish Government report said the “rolling 12-month suspected drug death total has declined for four consecutive quarters, but remains high”.

In the 12 months to the end of March 2022 there were 1,187 suspected drug deaths – with this 20% lower than the previous 12 months.

The report, however, stressed “numbers of suspected drug deaths fluctuate from quarter to quarter and care should be taken not to interpret movements between individual calendar quarters as indicative of any long term trend”

Ms Constance said: “I want to extend my deepest sympathy to all those affected by the loss of a loved one through drugs.”

She stated: “The latest quarterly report on the number of suspected drug deaths indicates that in the first three months of this year there was a fall on the same period in the previous year.

“However, I am aware that this report on suspected drug deaths uses management information provided by Police Scotland and is based on attending officers’ observations and initial enquiries at the scene of death.

“The numbers we are seeing are still far too high and we remain focused on our ongoing efforts to get more people into the form of treatment which works best for them.”

Ms Constance added she was “determined that the £250 million we are investing in tackling this public health emergency will make a difference”.

However, Scottish Conservative drugs spokeswoman Sue Webber said ministers  “took their eye off the ball while this national crisis mushroomed on their watch”.

The Tory MSP said: “Scotland’s sky-high drugs-death rate – the worst in Europe – shows no sign of marked improvement.

“It’s clear that the SNP’s current drugs strategy isn’t working because too many people with addiction problems can’t access the help they need, and the increased funding appears not to be reaching the front line.”

Scottish Labour drugs policy spokesperson Claire Baker said while it was “positive to see early signs that we are finally tackling this public health emergency” the number of people “losing their lives to drug use is still tragically high”.

Ms Baker said: “Every single drug-related death is one too many and so while any progress should be welcomed, there is no room for complacency.”

Coronavirus – Wed Sep 29, 2021
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton urged ministers to “go further and faster in tackling Scotland’s drugs problem (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Scotland’s performance on drugs has been truly terrible, particularly in many of our poorest and most deprived neighbourhoods. That must change.”

He urged the Scottish Government to “go further and faster” on the issue, saying: “When it comes to drug-related deaths, Scotland is the worst in Europe. This is a crisis of international significance.

“It’s why I’ve called for a specialised WHO taskforce, made up of leading experts in drug mortality, to help get to grips this particularly Scottish epidemic.”