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Blog: reaction to latest drug-related deaths figures for Scotland

“Year on year we’ve seen a horrifying rise in the number of people lost to a drug-related deaths.  This year we see this number reach 1,187, up 27% on last year.  But it was horrifying last year too when 934 people died, an 8% rise and 105% higher than in 2007.  And the year before that when we lost 868 people.  After so many years of reporting so many deaths, these numbers start to lose meaning.  Turning Point Scotland employs 1,300 people across around 180 locations spread across the country; the number of people who died from a drug-related death this year represents nearly our entire workforce.

Each year, when these figures are published we are confronted with an uncomfortable truth that we manage to, if not ignore then at least keep to one side; our approach to problematic drug use is failing. 

In recent weeks I’ve found cause for (cautious) hope that there might finally be a shift in our thinking, where I might not have expected to find it.  The Orlando drug rehab with White Sands published a bold front page calling for the decriminalisation of drugs.  In his evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee Inquiry into problem drug use in Scotland, ACC Steve Johnson stated his support for Glasgow’s planned safer consumption site as well as reform of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) that shapes our legal framework.  In our evidence to the inquiry we called for an approach to drug policy and legislation that is based on the evidence of what works and what does not.  Just a couple of weeks ago, the Conservative Party launched a Drug Policy Reform Group that promises to “…provide a policy forum promoting evidence-based assessment and discussion of drugs policy.  Our overall aim is to facilitate authoritative and informed consideration of current prohibition policies and any reforms which could reduce the public harm caused by drugs.”

It seems that we might be ready to start asking some big important questions.  I sincerely hope we are, but this cannot distract us from the urgent need for leadership, change and action on the ground NOW.  There is much that we can do within the current framework, if the will is there, because this is not just about drugs policy or drug services.  We need to look across our criminal justice, homelessness, mental health, education, social work services.  We all need to ask ourselves how we can do better for the people who are falling through the net of our public services. 

I really believe that we could have prevented the vast majority of these deaths.  I know that we are missing opportunities every day to keep people alive.  I hope that we’ve finally reached the point where we act, with real commitment and conviction, to stop the deaths.”

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