At least £20 million is needed to tackle Scotland’s drug deaths crisis, Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson says, as MSPs debated the issue at Holyrood.
A minute’s silence was held for those who had died from drug-related issues during a virtual session of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday to discuss a motion from Monica Lennon.
Outrage over Scotland’s rising toll of drug deaths – which was revealed to be the worst in Europe – led to the resignation of public health minister Joe FitzPatrick in December.
Angela Constance became drugs policy minister after he left, a position which did not exist previously.
Ms Lennon’s motion said the issue was a “national public health crisis” and called for funded access to residential rehabilitation to be widened.
MSPs observed a one-minute silence at the virtual meeting “to show respect for all who have died”.
The Scottish Labour MSP said: “Services are running on shoestring budgets, rehab beds have closed, including on the First Minister’s doorstep.
“It has been left to friends and family to pick up the pieces too many times.
“As a minimum, £20 million is required right now for residential rehab.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said references to the health problems of the “Trainspotting generation” – ageing drug users who first became addicted decades ago – would be “cold comfort” to the families of those who had died.
He said Scotland’s drug-related death rate was “off the charts” and was three-and-a-half times that of England and Wales.
Green MSP John Finnie said the issue was not confined to the central belt and also affected rural communities around Scotland.
He said: “The problem to my mind is that drug deaths are not a priority for many of our constituents and many of them sadly see deaths as an inevitable consequence of the actions of some unclean criminal underclass.
“We all know that that’s not only deeply offensive but it’s wholly inaccurate.”
Speaking at the end of the debate, Ms Constance said she had been meeting people with “lived experience” of drugs since she began her new role as drugs policy minister.
She said: “The First Minister will make a statement next week, laying out how we will achieve a step change in the short, medium and longer term.
“This will include a commitment to increase the provision of residential rehabilitation and bring our bed numbers up to the European average.”
She said “significant resources” were needed to bring about the changes the Government wanted.