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We need to take bold steps to tackle Scotland’s drug death shame

4 min read

The Right to Recovery Bill is designed to cut through the broken treatment system and guarantee that everyone who needs treatment can get it.

For the seventh year in a row, the drug death crisis in Scotland has reached a shocking new peak.

We lost 1,339 people in 2020 to drugs. This crisis has become a national shame. A stain on my country’s international reputation.

Scotland’s drug death rate is now close to four times higher than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. In fact, it’s close to four times worse than any country in Europe.

But the most shocking figure is probably this one – if you live in the poorest areas of Scotland, you are 18 times more likely to die from drugs than if you live in the most affluent areas.

Behind all of those shocking figures are lost loved ones and broken families. People who, in most cases, desperately wanted to be free from drugs but couldn’t get the treatment they needed.

This is a crisis that has been growing out of control for years. It has not suddenly been sprung on the government with no warning. It is a homegrown crisis, a problem far worse in Scotland than anywhere else. There really is no parallel for the severity of this crisis internationally.

They let this crisis spiral and now, faced by the consequences of their fatal inaction, they look lost

It is a crisis that has increased entirely on the SNP government’s watch. Since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister in 2014, drug deaths have doubled. Under the SNP’s entire time in power, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives to drugs in Scotland. This devastating failure is likely to become a central plank of Nicola Sturgeon’s personal legacy.

During the Scottish Parliament election campaign, I questioned the First Minister on her drug death record during one of the TV debates. She admitted to “taking her eye off the ball” on this crisis.

Now that we’ve seen the SNP government’s reaction to the latest statistics, it seems that Nicola Sturgeon is still not giving this crisis the dedication it requires.

They have delivered no extra resources. No new ideas. Nothing beyond warm words.

The government are out of ideas on drug deaths. They let this crisis spiral and now, faced by the consequences of their fatal inaction, they look lost.

As Scotland’s main opposition party, we have a duty to hold the government to account for their failures. But we are not merely criticising the government. We are coming to this crisis ready with solutions to meet this challenge.

In December, the SNP finally agreed to our repeated requests for £20 million per year of dedicated funding towards residential rehabilitation places. We had long campaigned for that funding to restore beds cut by the SNP and we are confident that, in time, it will help to turn this crisis around.

But the funding is not enough. The SNP’s treatment system is fundamentally broken. People are reaching out for help and being denied access to life-saving programmes. These are people who want to get off drugs and get their lives back on track. They are appealing for help. Many of them are at death’s door and will soon become another tragic statistic themselves, unless they get the help they need and want.

That’s why we have proposed a Right to Recovery Bill, developed with experts and people on the frontline of this crisis. Our Bill would guarantee that everyone who needs treatment can get it. It is designed to cut through the broken treatment system. It has already been backed by seven recovery organisations and has cross-party support.

This crisis is not going to be solved overnight. But to tackle Scotland’s shame, we need to take bold steps. I hope Nicola Sturgeon realises that before it’s too late for thousands of others.


Douglas Ross is the Conservative MP for Moray and Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party. 

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