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07/01/20 10:11

Call for immediate engagement on drugs deaths

Public Health Minister writes to the Home Secretary.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick has again called on the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government to tackle the rising number of drugs deaths.

In a letter, the Minister also asks Home Secretary Priti Patel to confirm that an appropriate UK Government Minister will attend a summit on the crisis in Glasgow this year.

The Scottish Government has taken a range of actions to address the public health emergency Scotland faces in terms of drug-related deaths, including setting up a dedicated taskforce to inform steps to reduce the harms caused by drugs and advise on further changes in practice, or in the law, which could help save lives.

Almost £800 million has been invested by the Scottish Government to tackle problem alcohol and drug use since 2008, and the 2018 alcohol and drug strategy set out how an additional £20 million per annum is being used to improve local prevention, treatment and recovery services in areas across the country.

The text of the letter to the Home Secretary is as follows:

7 January 2020

As you are aware 1,187 people lost their lives to drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018. I am writing to you again to invite you and Matt Hancock to work with us to tackle this public health emergency we are facing in Scotland, including attending a summit in Glasgow.

Since I last wrote to you on 23 August 2019, the Health and Social Care Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster have both published reports into drugs harm and have both recommended that the focus of drugs policy should be on harm reduction. Furthermore as part of the recent British Irish Council Meeting in Dublin, Baroness Blackwood and I visited the Dublin Inclusion Hub and were part of constructive discussions about the need to take a public health approach to tackling substance use.

We are already pursuing the options available to us within current devolved powers.  This includes additional investment in drug and alcohol services and I have set up a drugs deaths taskforce to inform steps to reduce the harms caused by drugs and advise on further changes in practice or in the law, which could help save lives.

However as both the Westminster committees recommend there are other innovative and bold measures that we could be taking to fully embed a public health approach and which, on the basis of evidence from other countries, have the potential to significantly reduce loss of life. This would include Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership piloting a supervised consumption facility to supplement the recently established enhanced treatment service in the city. This proposal is backed by Glasgow City Council and a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament but requires the agreement of the Home Office, either to make the necessary amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or to devolve responsibility for the Act to Scotland.

I would very much like to work with you constructively to bring forward measures that help address the severity of the issues we are facing in Scotland. There are a number of simple steps we can take together to support Scotland in addressing our unique circumstances and we wish to accept the additional responsibility that would bring. Testing ideas such as drug consumption rooms in Scotland would also provide an evidence base that would support decision making in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We have been working with Glasgow drug and alcohol services for some time to organise a summit in Glasgow on this issue that I will be hosting. There is cross-party support in Scotland for this summit which will be attended by government representatives, local authorities and the chair of Scotland’s Drug Deaths Taskforce and which will ensure the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are also heard. I would like to invite you, Matt Hancock and Alister Jack to attend the summit to demonstrate our shared commitment to tackle this issue. We will also be inviting representatives from Wales and Northern Ireland to attend, both administrations have already indicated their willingness to participate.

I look forward to hearing from you on how we might engage immediately on this matter in order to make progress as well as confirmation that you will join me at the forthcoming drugs summit in Glasgow.

I am copying this letter to Matt Hancock and Alister Jack.


Yours sincerely

Joe FitzPatrick