Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has appointed a minister for drug policy to lead work on tackling the country’s record rates of drug-related deaths. Angela Constance, a former social worker, will take up the role this week subject to parliamentary approval. She takes over responsibility from public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick, who is no longer in post following publication of the country’s most recent drug death statistics.
Scotland’s long-delayed drug death figures for 2019 recorded 1,264 fatalities, up 6 per cent on 2018’s previous record figure and the highest since records began. The country’s death rate is three and a half times higher than that for the UK as a whole and the highest in the EU.
‘As the minister responsible for this area I, ultimately, take my responsibility,’ said a statement from Joe Fitzpatrick. ‘It is clear that my presence as a minister will become a distraction when we should be focused on achieving the change we need to save lives.’ Labour and the Liberal Democrats had been calling for his sacking and were apparently preparing a vote of no confidence.
‘Scotland’s record on drug deaths is simply not good enough and as first minister I know we have much more to do,’ said Nicola Sturgeon. ‘As a first step I have decided to appoint a dedicated minister, working directly alongside me, whose job it will be to work across government to improve outcomes for people whose lives are affected by drugs. We must not accept a situation in which people who use drugs are allowed to fall through the cracks, with so many dying premature and avoidable deaths as a result. Behind the statistics are real people whose lives matter, and I am absolutely determined that we take actions to fix this.’
‘I intend to get straight down to business, meeting with people who are at risk of dying from drugs, learning from the families of those we have lost and working with those in our communities and public health teams who are providing such valuable support,’ added Angela Constance. ‘Government can and will do more.’
Barry Sheridan and Ian McPhee wrote in a recent issue of DDN that the long-accepted narrative about Scotland’s high death rate being the result of an ageing cohort of drug users was no longer acceptable (November, page 7). ‘In an advanced nation such as Scotland we should not consider being over 35 part of an ageing cohort,’ they said, adding that blaming the death rate on a legacy of Westminster pre-devolution economic policies was ‘shameful’.