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'It is tragic the lives of people in Highland have ended prematurely', says Highland Alcohol and Drugs Partnership as new figures are released

By Val Sweeney

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The Highland Overdose Prevention and Engagement (HOPE) app is among a range of initiatives aimed at reducing drug-related deaths.
The Highland Overdose Prevention and Engagement (HOPE) app is among a range of initiatives aimed at reducing drug-related deaths.

More needs to be done to tackle the number of "tragic" drug-related deaths in the Highlands, agencies in the region have acknowledged.

It comes as newly-released figures show Scotland has the highest drug death rate recorded by any country in Europe.

In the Highlands, 33 people died after taking drugs last year – the lowest of all health board areas for which figures are available.

The Highland Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (HADP), whose members include Highland Council, NHS Highland, Police Scotland, Third Sector, Crown Office, Scottish Prison Service, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and local drug and alcohol forums, said it was deeply saddened by the number of people who had died.

It highlighted various schemes aimed at tackling the issue, ranging from a new app to help reduce drug-related harm and deaths to a pilot housing project, but it said everyone had a role to play in tackling the issue.

Meanwhile, as Highland police issued a warning of a number of people adversely affected when taking illicit tablets known as green xanax, Hulk xanax or monster xanax, the force also called on young people to join the war on drugs.

HADP said its thoughts were with all families and friends affected by drug-related deaths.

"It is tragic that the lives of people across Scotland and in Highland have ended prematurely," a spokesman said.

"We acknowledge that more needs to be done to reduce the number of deaths and support people to recover.

"In the Highlands, we review each death in order to learn lessons and improve practice."

Earlier this year, it launched the Highland Overdose Prevention and Engagement (HOPE) app – developed with input from people with experience of drug problems – to provide workers and the public with easy access to information on overdose situations, harm reduction, responding to emergencies and accessing support.

Deborah Stewart, HADP coordinator, urged people to download the HOPE app for free, adding: "Tackling stigma, which often acts as a barrier to treatment, is something we can all do by using people-first language and demonstrating kindness, compassion and hope towards people and families affected by drug problems."

Elisabeth Smart, chairwoman of HADP, said: "HADP is committed to tackling the stigma towards those with problematic drug use, and to bring individuals, families, and partner agencies together to achieve better outcomes for next year and the following years."

In another initiative, a pilot project, Housing First, led by the council’s housing department, prioritises support to people at higher risk of drug and alcohol-related death that also experience mental health problems and complex needs.

The partnership is also working with local pharmacies and Scottish Families Affected by Drugs to extend distribution of naloxone in local communities, and collaborating with Police Scotland to divert vulnerable people from the criminal justice system into treatment and support services.

Highland police issued an appeal for young people to support the battle against drugs.

A force spokesman said: "We are reaching out to the young people within our communities to assist us, and ask that you help us to eradicate drugs from our communities.

"We often see young people in crisis and sadly overdosing on drugs. Look out for each other and if things are getting tough, please always ask for help."

Anyone with worries about their own or another person's drug or alcohol use, can visit HADP directory.

Related story: New police commander for the Highlands pledges to take on drug traffickers

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