Cross-party action is needed to tackle Scotland’s drugs “emergency” and reduce the shocking level of drug-related deaths, the Scottish Conservatives have said.
After it was revealed that 1,187 deaths were caused by drugs last year, a 27% increase on 2017, the Scottish Tories described the situation as a “national emergency” and called for “serious and detailed conversation” about how to tackle the crisis.
However, the party’s health spokesman, Miles Briggs, was criticised after admitting that safe consumption rooms are “effective in tackling overdoses” – despite the Home Office blocking plans for the centres in Glasgow.
Mr Briggs said he wants to see a cross-party summit, involving both the Scottish and UK Governments and opposition parties to develop actions for tackling drug deaths.
“It’s time we all rose to the challenge again, starting with a cross-party summit so we can begin a serious and detailed conversation about how to tackle this national emergency,” he said.
“With 1,187 of our fellow Scots losing their lives to addiction last year, the need for cross-party and inter-governmental discussions to find solutions is critical.
“This is a crisis that spans political divides, so we would hope that both Scottish and UK Governments are involved.
“What’s now vital is that all parties make this national emergency a national priority.
“We can and must rise to the challenge.”
Despite evidence from other countries that safe consumption rooms are effective in reducing the number of deaths from overdoses – a point Mr Briggs agreed with when asked on BBC Radio Scotland – he would not commit to supporting their introduction in Scotland, instead arguing for more support to get addicts into drug treatment services.
Among the ideas suggested by the Scottish Conservatives are allowing first-time drug users to avoid a criminal record as long as they attend support services; redirection of funds into rehabilitation, recovery and abstinence; as well as a review into the use of heroin substitute methadone.
SNP MSP Shona Robison urged more support and powers from the UK Government, saying: “We need a bold and innovative approach to tackle the tragedy of drug deaths.
“Supervised drug consumption rooms have been shown to work elsewhere in the world and could be a key tool to reducing deaths in Scotland.
“They are not a magic bullet and would not prevent every death, but they do have a part to play and – as the Tories have now admitted – could save lives.
“It is staggering that the Tories admit such an approach is effective in reducing overdoses – but still stubbornly oppose giving us the power to try.
“We mustn’t have more lives lost needlessly. The UK Government must urgently get behind our efforts.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats have today submitted a 10-point plan to curb drug and alcohol misuse, with demands that the Government push for heroin-treatment provision.
Law changes suggested by the party include the legalisation and regulation of cannabis, an increase in minimum alcohol unit pricing to 60p, and that people should not be sent to prison for possession of drugs for personal use.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the party’s health spokesman, said: “The failure of Scotland’s last substance misuse strategy, cooked up as part of a budget deal between the SNP and Conservatives, can be measured in human lives. It has contributed to the crisis that has seen deaths reaching an all-time high.
“Through a combination of preemptive measures and compassionate treatment Scotland can turn a corner, but it will take a Scottish Government prepared to show real ambition.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “Tackling the scourge of drugs on individual lives and on our communities is a priority for us all.
“The causes of drug misuse are complex and need a range of policy responses and many of the powers to deal with drug dependency such as healthcare, housing and criminal justice are devolved in Scotland.
“Through our drug strategy, we are combating the illicit drug trade with the National Crime Agency and Border Force working to prevent serious organised crime and importation across Scotland.
“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to tackle this problem which claims so many lives.”