SCOTLAND’S record-breaking number of drugs deaths last year “is a scar on the conscience” of the SNP Government, opposition MSPs have claimed.
New statistics from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) revealed 1,339 people died due to drugs misuse in 2020 – a 5% rise from 2019 and the highest number since records began in 1996.
More than 10,000 people have now lost their lives to drugs since the SNP came to power.
Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross said a “united national effort” was needed to tackle the “national shame” – with Scotland maintaining the worst drug deaths rate in Europe.
He called for Nicola Sturgeon to stop stalling and back the Scottish Conservatives’ proposal for a Right to Recovery Bill – which would enshrine in law that everyone can access the treatment they need.
Mr Ross said: “These latest statistics are horrifying and heartbreaking. Behind every number is a lost loved one and a broken family.
“These shocking figures alone cannot capture the agony, pain and devastation that the drugs crisis is causing in communities across Scotland.
“The drugs crisis is our national shame. It is a stain on Scotland that so many of our most vulnerable people have been left without hope, crushed by a system that is thoroughly broken.
“This is not a day for political posturing but it is a simple fact that the Government’s small steps are not cutting it. The crisis is getting worse and spiralling out of control.
“We need a united national effort to make the drastic changes necessary to overhaul the broken system.”
He added: “The Scottish Conservatives are bringing forward a Right to Recovery Bill to guarantee in law that everyone who needs treatment can get it.
“This proposal has the backing of frontline groups and experts across the political spectrum. SNP MSPs are reportedly on board privately. We only need the government to wake up, stop stalling and support it.
“The Scottish Parliament passed Covid laws in three days. We can introduce a right to recovery law swiftly if we adopt a similar sense of urgency.
“Overnight, we won’t end this crisis. But we can start on the right path today and take the necessary action now, if the government throws their weight behind this proposal.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, Alex Cole-Hamilton, warned “this will be a terribly hard day for all those who lost a loved one last year”, adding that “each and every life lost is a tragedy”.
He added: “Every drug death is preventable. However, that task became ten times harder when SNP ministers avoided the subject ahead of the independence referendum, as that justice secretary admitted, and then cut the budget for critical prevention services by 22%.
“Help and expertise that people relied upon was needlessly surrendered when it should have been expanded.
“It was Nicola Sturgeon’s choice to ignore this unfolding epidemic. Issuing apologies now is too late for thousands of people. The victims of drugs and their families were failed. It is a scar on the conscience of this Scottish Government.”
The Scottish Greens have called for the UK and Scottish governments to both act to halt the rising drug deaths.
Scottish Greens health and social care spokesperson, Gillian Mackay, said: “Today’s tragic figures are yet another reminder of the devastating impact of drug misuse has on communities in Scotland. Every single one of these deaths is a preventable tragedy.
“The approach to drugs, pursued by both the UK and Scottish governments, must change. The war on drugs has demonstrably failed, it’s long past time we treated this crisis as the public health emergency that it is.
“It is time for an approach which focuses on restoring people’s dignity and treating their addiction, rather than criminalising them.
“While long term plans are now being developed to tackle this crisis, they come far too late for many. And for those in crisis now, they need to see urgent action, not more empty words.”
Responding to the figures, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Today, my thoughts are with every family who has lost a loved one – I am sorry for the loss you have suffered.”
She wrote on Twitter: “However, I know that from @scotgov what is required isn’t words, but action to prevent people dying, and that is what we are determined to deliver.”