The drug death crisis Nicola Sturgeon must solve - and why Scottish Government needs to act now, writes Peter Smith
While Scotland’s First Minster is fighting Brexit and championing Scottish independence on the world stage, at home there has been the emergence of a drug death crisis.
Scotland now has the worst rate of drug deaths in the developed world. The number of people dying has just about doubled since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister.
Significantly, the SNP have just backed the ‘decriminalisation’ of drugs at their conference - which they call the Portuguese model of decriminalisation - meaning drug users caught in possession of small amounts of drugs should not be treated as criminals.
The problem is that misuse is a ‘reserved’ matter, meaning it’s not in the Scottish Government’s power to deliver this policy; It lies with the UK Home Office and they’re clear that they are not about to decriminalise drug possession.
Drug users and front line drugs workers agree devolving drug legislation to Scotland could help save some lives.
But I’ve been investigating Scotland’s drug death crisis for the last two years and these groups are also in agreement the Scottish Government has not used the powers it already has, or quickly enough, and that inaction has cost lives.
Scotland in grip of drugs crisis as more than 1,000 die every year with deadly pills costing less than Mars bar
For starters, Naloxone is literally a life-saving drug that pulls people back from the brink of death by overdose. It’s simple to administer and can be used as a nasal spray.
The Scottish Government could have insisted all first responders carry this. They have not.
Huge investment in a Naloxone campaign could have made it as widely accessible as defibrillators and saved lives. This hasn’t happened.
People with addictions report being refused treatment by mental health services because they’re using drugs - which seems self-defeating and is within the Scottish Government’s powers to address now.
The main response to this drug death emergency from the Scottish Government so far has been to set up a Task Force. It was announced back in March and took six months to have its first and only meeting so far.
It’s unlikely to report its findings until next year. But we know drug deaths are expected to go up again in Scotland this year.
Solving Scotland’s drug death emergency is not straightforward. However, the criticism at the First Minister’s door is there has been a lot of talking for a long time, while people on the streets of Scotland are continuing to die in record numbers.