‘Still much to do’ on drug & alcohol deaths

Scottish Government reiterates call for more powers to tackle drugs deaths in light of new Audit Scotland report on services

Tuesday 21st May 2019

A report by Scotland’s public spending watchdog says there is ‘still much to do’ to bring down drug- and alcohol-related deaths and promote recovery.

Audit Scotland welcomes Scottish Government initiatives to reduce the harm caused by drugs and make alcohol less attractive but warns deaths caused by alcohol and drugs remain too high.

Responding to the update, the Scottish Government called on the UK Government to approve a safe drugs consumption room in Glasgow – or transfer the power to do so to Holyrood.

In their review of ten years of efforts to tackle problematic drug and alcohol use, auditors warn that deaths ‘remain high in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK and many other European countries’.

Despite nearly £750m being spent over the decade, drug-related deaths continue to rise and, although there has been a slight reduction in since 2009, alcohol-related fatalities remain twice as high as the UK average.

Elsewhere, Audit Scotland finds ‘the scale of health inequalities in Scotland has not reduced’ and says progress on the national drugs strategy has been ‘mixed’.

And while drug and alcohol services are performing well – the only national waiting times target to be met by the NHS in Scotland – the assessment says it’s ‘not clear’ how the Scottish Government is using data to develop services at a national level.

There’s also praise for the human rights approach to support services that the Scottish Government is promoting.

Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, praised ‘notable achievements’ such as Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol, ‘significant and continued’ growth in recovery communities and ongoing progress on harm reduction strategies.

But the public sector auditor added: “Without clear performance data around what measures are working, the government will continue to find it hard to achieve its aim of reducing deaths and better supporting people to recover."

Joe FitzPatrick, the Public Health Minister, welcomed the report and its findings.

Looking ahead to a review of the impact of minimum unit pricing, he promised the Scottish Government would “continue to monitor and evaluate progress on the actions from the new alcohol and drugs strategies, launched last year.”

Turning to drugs policy, the Dundee MSP added: “I believe that what Scotland faces in drug deaths is an emergency. To determine what more we can do I will soon be convening an expert group to advise on what further changes, in practice or in law, could help save lives and reduce harm.

“The Audit Scotland report recognises our support for medically supervised safe consumption rooms, but the UK Government, which holds the power on this issue, has so far rejected them out of hand.

“We want to keep taking innovative, life-saving approaches to public health priorities, and if the UK Government is unwilling to act, then I believe they should respect the will of the Scottish Parliament and devolve those powers to allow us to do what is necessary.”