Drugs minister Angela Constance has pledged to look “seriously” at Tory plans to legislate for a “Right to Rehab” for drug users.
Ms Constance was clear that more action needs to be taken to ensure increased numbers of problem drug users can get into treatment.
She vowed to consider the Right to Recovery Bill that the Scottish Conservatives have committed to bring forward, which aims to give drug users the right to access residential rehabilitation services.
She spoke out on the issue as Scotland’s drug death toll rose again, with figures revealing there had been 1,339 deaths in 2020, a 5% rise on the previous year.
Ms Constance, the drugs policy minister in the Scottish Government, said: “These figures demonstrate a shocking scale of loss of life, the loss of life is both heartbreaking and utterly unacceptable and I want to offer my condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one.”
She also stressed her “commitment to continue to do everything we can in the national mission to both save and improve lives and get more of our people into the treatment they need and deserve”.
Ms Constance, who reports directly to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the issue, said she had “never ruled out the need to introduce further legislation” to tackle Scotland’s drugs problem.
And she said when the Conservative Bill was published she would “look at it very seriously”.
But she stated: “Meantime, I would argue people already have rights to health care that meets their needs, and what we need to do is ensure people [have] rights to good health, and support and treatment, that that is implemented.
“And that is why for the first time we have committed £100 million to increase the capacity and improve access to residential rehab.”
Ms Constance conceded: “We don’t have enough of our people in treatment, and that is a key priority moving forward, to get more people into treatment, the treatment that is right for them at a time when they ask for it.”
She told how new treatments for drug users were being rolled out, including the use of Buvidal – also known as buprenorphine – an alternative to methadone but which is given via weekly or monthly injections, saving people having to visit the pharmacy on a daily basis.
Ms Constance said evidence showed this new treatment “for many people has better clinical outcomes”.
With the figures also showing those in the poorest areas are 18 times more likely to die as a result of drugs than those in the least deprived communities, she stressed the need for drugs services to be better linked to work to tackle poverty.
Ms Constance said: “It is, of course, fair to say that drug use and problematic drug use can affect any family from any part of Scotland, but there is a huge correlation between poverty, deprivation and drug use.
“That means that we need to join at the hip the work to address poverty and inequality with our work on drugs.
“In particular, our work on mental health is really important here, because we know people in poorer communities can have poorer mental health, therefore the work to integrate drug and mental health services is crucially important.”
With people from poorer areas more likely to be admitted to hospital because of drugs, she told how “quick contact” needed to be made with them so they could get the help they needed.
“When people turn up at hospital having experienced an overdose, we really must act quickly not only to save their lives but to improve their lives,” the minister said.