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UPDATE: Highland Tory MP 'extremely worried' by increase in Highland drug deaths

By Neil MacPhail

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Drug death worry.
Drug death worry.

A Highlands and Islands MSP has urged the Scottish Government to ensure adequate support and rehab facilities are available right across Scotland and not just in the central belt.

Conservative member Jamie Halcro Johnston was commenting after publication of the latest figures showing that while Scotland's drugs deaths toll was the lowest in several years, 42 of the people in Highland NHS Board area died from drugs compared with 35 drug deaths in 2021 and 33 in 2020.

The figures, published by National Records of Scotland, found that 1,051 people died due to drug misuse in 2022, a decrease of 279 deaths (21%) compared with 2021 and the lowest annual total since 2017.

However, Scotland continues to have the worst drug death rate in the UK and the rest of Europe, and despite this fall, drug misuse deaths are still more common than they were two decades ago.

Mr Halcro Johnston said: "These latest statistics continue to paint a harrowing picture of the drugs crisis facing this country, and each and every one of the more than 1000 lives lost is a tragedy.

"Scotland still has a death rate nearly three times higher than the rest of the United Kingdom, by far the worst rate of all European countries.

“While there has been a reduction in the number of deaths across Scotland, and that is welcome, too many families are losing loved ones and too many communities are still blighted by the scourge of drug abuse and dependency."

He added: “It is extremely worrying that the number of deaths in the NHS Highland area has actually increased to 42 deaths in 2022, up from 35 deaths in the previous year.

"It is vital that the Scottish Government ensures adequate support and rehab facilities are available right across Scotland and not just in the Central Belt.

“And after years of cutting funding for addiction services, the SNP/Green government must back the Scottish Conservatives’ Right to Recovery Bill which would enshrine in law a person's right to be given whichever treatment option they prefer, from rehab to medical assisted treatment.

“There is no easy or cheap option for tackling the drugs crisis the SNP have allowed to grow on their watch, and serious and focused action from Scottish ministers in Edinburgh is well overdue.”

The government's Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister Elena Whitham has welcomed the record fall in the number of drug-related deaths – and has reaffirmed her commitment to continue the National Mission to reduce deaths and improve lives impacted by drugs.

She said: “My sympathy goes out to all those affected by the loss of a loved one through drugs.

“While I am pleased to see that hundreds of families have been spared this agony and lives have been saved, every life lost is a tragedy and the number of deaths is still too high.

“I will never underestimate the scale of the challenge we continue to face, including responding to new threats such as synthetic opioids and stimulant use. I can see that our work across Scotland, where we have already supported 300 grass-roots projects is gathering pace, and I’m grateful to all those delivering vital services.

“As part of our £250 million National Mission on drugs, we’ll continue to focus on getting more people into the form of treatment and support they need, expand access to residential rehabilitation and drive the rollout of life-saving Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Standards where we are making significant progress.

“As we highlighted in our recent Drug Law Reform proposals, the UK Government could do more to work with us to help introduce harm reduction measures.”

Glasgow City and Dundee City had the highest rates of drug misuse deaths over the last five years.

Opiates and opioids, including heroin, morphine and methadone, were implicated in more than 8 out of 10 drug related deaths in 2022.

The rate of drug poisoning deaths in Scotland was 2.7 times as high as the UK average in 2021, the most recent year that data is available for the UK as a whole.

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