Scottish Government calls for urgent meeting with Home Office over drug deaths

21 July 2019, 05:59 | Updated: 21 July 2019, 06:01

Drugs Heroin

The Home Office must work with the Scottish Government to help tackle "tragic" drug deaths, Scotland's Public Health Minister has said.

Joe FitzPatrick MSP has called for an urgent meeting about the rising number of drug-related deaths in Scotland, in a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

Deaths caused by drugs rose by more than a quarter last year to 1,187 - a higher rate than anywhere in Europe and the highest since current records began in 1996.

In his letter to the Home Secretary, Mr FitzPatrick described the "tragic" increase as "unacceptable" and added: "I take seriously the impact this has on individuals, families and communities."

Mr FitzPatrick wrote: "In response to these shocking statistics, I am inviting the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government to tackle this problem which claims so many lives."

Asking for a government minister to attend a proposed emergency summit - expected to be held in Glasgow - about the problem, he added: "The Scottish Government has already agreed that we will host such a summit, where government representatives, local authorities and the chair of Scotland's new Drug Deaths Taskforce would be invited, ensuring the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are also heard.

"I understand that there is cross-party support for this conversation, including from Miles Briggs MSP, who has written to me to offer his support."

Mr Briggs, the Scottish Conservative health spokesman, described the situation as a "national emergency" and called for "serious and detailed conversation" about how to tackle the crisis, in comments on Wednesday.

He said: "This is a crisis that spans political divides, so we would hope that both Scottish and UK Governments are involved.

"What's now vital is that all parties make this national emergency a national priority.

"We can and must rise to the challenge."

However, the responses of the SNP and Scottish Conservatives to the release of the drug death statistics on Tuesday were lambasted by former prime minister Gordon Brown, who argued that it demonstrated how the "extremes" of the two parties were failing Scotland and putting the union at risk.

Mr Brown said: "Nothing illustrates the sterility of this head-to-head confrontation than when in the wake of news of Scotland having the worst and most deadly drugs problem in Europe, SNP and Conservatives simply blamed each other.

"There should have been a call for joint action to end a crisis that is needlessly destroying thousands of lives."