Reacting to the latest Drug related deaths statistics published today (Friday) which show that the number of people who died in 2020 was 1,339 the Former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, the ALBA MP for East Lothian said:

These statistics show that Scotland is losing the ‘War on Drugs’.  Every one of these deaths is a human tragedy and the confirmation that there are now more than ten thousand families grieving the loss of a loved one since 2007 is a shocking indictment on our society, our law and policy makers and our justice system.

We see the glaring inequalities of wealth, income and opportunity in Scotland today reflected in these statistics with the highest number of drug related deaths in our most deprived and disadvantaged communities in Dundee, Glasgow and Inverclyde.

“This is a time for action, for leadership and most of all for courage.

“The Scottish Government must take action.  They must use their existing powers to restore the cuts to drug and alcohol partnership budgets and properly resource the drug services that communities need. Yet whilst action is urgently needed and the Scottish Government have a renewed mandate, they are still to seek from Westminster a review of drug policy and of Drug Consumption Rooms since the Election. 

The Scottish Government must show leadership.  Where they lack the powers they should demand them and where these are not forthcoming they must have the courage to act. Whilst it is the case that the Misuse of Drugs Act is reserved to Westminster, interpretation and implementation of it rests with the Scottish Government and the Lord Advocate.

“That is why I am calling on the Scottish Government to show courage and issue clear guidance through the Lord Advocate that there should be no prosecutions in relation to the use of Drug Consumption Rooms.  That could be done without a change in the law.  Of course there are risks of a legal challenge but the risk of drug deaths in our communities is even greater. 

“Business as usual is unacceptable and simply blaming Westminster when failing either to request the powers or take any steps within their own control is shameful.  The Scottish Government should use the powers they have, push for the powers they need and seek to find room to manoeuvre not simply lament the situation and play the blame game.”

In a statement Neale Hanvey MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, a former senior NHS employee added:

This is a public-health crisis no less serious than the Covid pandemic.

“Between 2010 and 2020, there were 9,089 drug-related deaths in Scotland, that compares to 7,842 people who have died from Covid. But while Covid is treated with the utmost seriousness that the pandemic demands, we’ve been much slower to act on the drugs crisis.

If it was yuppies in Glasgow Kelvin that were impacted, it’s hard to believe that the Scottish Government would have let this crisis fester.

“Of course, it is the UK government that refuses to entertain safe consumption rooms, decriminalisation, or frankly any evidence-based public health approach to drugs. And it is the UK government that dismisses Scottish requests that powers be devolved to Holyrood so we can chart a different path.

“But the blame cannot be placed solely at Westminster’s door. It is time for the Scottish Government to stop playing the “blame game” and to meet its responsibilities.  We need much more investment in rehabilitation, a faster and wider roll out of naloxone and serious efforts to address poverty and inequality that are the roots of this crisis.

“Users, their families, communities and frankly the whole of Scotland deserves much better.”