Drug deaths inquiry to be considered

Green MSP calls on First Minister to “end the tragedy” of rising drug deaths in Scotland

Thursday 14th March 2019

In light of the “increasing number of drug deaths” in Scotland, the First Minister today said she was willing to consider holding an inquiry as part of efforts to tackle what some MSPs have called a “public health crisis”.

The commitment came in response to questioning from John Finnie, Green MSP for the Highlands & Islands.

Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, Mr Finnie said:

“The current approach [to tackling drug use] clearly isn’t working; there were 934 deaths in 2017 and everything suggests the 2018 figures may be significantly higher.

“We are faced with a public health crisis. Scottish ministers have the power to establish a public enquiry into any matter when there is a large loss of life

“Will the First Minister urgently establish a statutory inquiry into Scotland’s drug death crisis and commit to acting on its findings in order to end this ongoing tragedy?

Responding, the First Minister stated she was “not immediately persuaded” that an inquiry was the best way forward but committed to consider the proposal nevertheless.

The First Minister stated: “Any death from drugs is one too many, of course. Many of the people we sadly see dying from drugs are people who have lived with alcohol and drug use for a long time and become more vulnerable as they grow older.

“The 2018 drug death statistics showed fewer deaths among under 25s than in the previous year and recent reports also highlight falling heroin use, particularly in the under-25 age group, so there is absolutely no room there for complacency, but I think it is important contextual point to make.

Ms Sturgeon made clear her Government wanted to look at different ways of addressing the issue. She added: “That’s why, for example, we have supported Glasgow City Council in its request to set up medically supervised safer drug consumption rooms.

“We want to treat these issues much more as public health issues, bringing different agencies together and as we do that we are of course prepared to consider any proposal made and I will do that with the one John Finnie has made today.”

Calls for inquiry supported by leading drug & alcohol charities

Justina Murray, chief executive of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, said:

We welcome John Finnie MSP’s call at First Minister’s Questions today for Scotland to establish its own statutory inquiry into our rising rate of drug deaths.

In 2017, 934 families lost a loved one to drugs, and all indications are that this figure will rise when the 2018 statistics are published this summer. Families constantly tell us they dread that call from the police, that knock at their door, or turning their own key in the lock and finding their loved one.

It is heart-breaking to hear these stories, and to know of this everyday stress for families, who are crying out for a different approach.

We do need to act and we do need to act now – this is a public health emergency. We agree with the First Minister that we need to look at different ways of addressing these issues.

In our view a statutory inquiry would carry real weight and influence, and have the power to seek evidence from a wide range of views, including those who have not engaged in previous attempts to find a solution. We would be happy to take part in such an inquiry, and to support families to share their own experiences directly.”

Capacity issues highlighted by Scottish Drugs Forum

In response, the Scottish Drugs Forum's chief executive, David Liddell, said:

"We would welcome any initiative that focussed attention on this issue. Drug overdose deaths seem to be rising exponentially. There are legitimate questions around our approach in terms of both policy and practice.

"Even if we had exactly the wholly correct approach and practice, and our view would be that we do not, then we simply do not have the capacity within services to cope with the potential demand of 56,000 people with a drug problem."