Nicola Sturgeon apologises for ‘letting down’ Scots in drug-death crisis

NICOLA Sturgeon has apologised to the families of the Scots who’ve died drug related deaths, telling MSPs that they had been “let down” by her government.

During Thursday’s First Minister’s Questions, she said she could not “defend the indefensible”.

The latest statistics from the National Records of Scotland (NRS), released on Tuesday, revealed that 1264 people died in 2019, up 6% on the previous year.

Nearly seven in 10 of those who died last year were male and more than two-thirds were aged 35 – 54.

According to the NRS, Scotland’s drug-death rate was higher than those reported for all the EU countries and was approximately three and a half times that of the UK as a whole.

Sturgeon said the figures were “completely unacceptable” and promised to intervene.

READ MORE: Scotland’s grim drug death statistics spark demands for action on consumption rooms

She said: “We have much to do to sort this out and sorting this out is our responsibility and it is a serious responsibility. Behind every single one of these statistics is a human being whose life mattered, someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister and I am sorry to every family who has suffered grief.

“Every person who dies an avoidable death because of drug use is being, has been let down.

“The fact is this is difficult and complex but that is not an excuse.”

The First Minister said she would be attending the next meeting of the Scottish Government’s Drug Death Task Force on January 12 and would “take stock with the task force and to consider what further immediate steps we need to take.”

She promised to make a statement in the chamber before the end of the next month.

Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson hit out at cuts to rehab services, giving MSPs the example of Castle Creek, which in 2002 admitted 257 NHS patients.

Last year, it took just five.

Of the 365 rehab beds available in Scotland, about 100 are being taken up by patients from other countries, partly because the Scottish Government no longer fund them.

Davidson pointed out that back in 2006, the First Minister – then an opposition MSP – “stood where I am, right on this spot, berating the then Scottish Government for cutting rehab funding. In fact, she went further and she claimed that it showed why Scotland needed a new Government.”

Davidson added: “If cuts to rehab funding were to be condemned in 2006, as they should have been, why does the First Minister think they should be accepted now?”

Sturgeon replied: “I said at the outset of the exchange that I am not going to give political answers. I think many of the criticisms that are being made of the government are valid and legitimate and I think we have got much work”.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson pledges to discuss safe drug consumption rooms for users

She added: “It is not true to say that work is not being done, considerable work is being done, but as I said in my original answer, I do believe there are hard questions for us to address about whether that work is sufficient and whether it has been done quickly enough and I’m not going to shy away from that today.”

Sturgeon said funding for drug and alcohol services had increased apart from in two years, though she admitted that it may not have “increased sufficiently or adequately”.

She also said there were questions over whether the drug death task force was doing enough work and whether it is going quickly enough.

“I take that seriously. This is not comfortable, it shouldn’t be comfortable. I am not going to stand here and try to defend the indefensible. These lives matter too much and we owe it to those who have lost their lives, but we owe it to those whose lives that can still be saved, to make sure that people like me do not engage in the usual political defensiveness, but accept where criticisms are due and valid and redouble our efforts to make sure that we are doing the right things to resolve this.”

Labour’s Richard Leonard repeated calls for Public Health minister Joe FitzPatrick to resign.

The First Minister, who previously said she had full confidence in the Public Health Minister, said she would work with her team to ensure “the right steps have been taken”.

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