A Glasgow minister has said efforts to tackle Scotland's drug death crisis can't wait until Nicola Sturgeon secures independence and has full policy control.

Reverend Brian Casey said the First Minister's admission that the government 'took our eye off the ball" was a clear indication that more could have been done to half a doubling of death rates.

Rev Casey said he had performed around 300 funerals since the start of the pandemic and there had been a rise in deaths linked to addiction.

He suggested the church could play a role in policy discussions at government level and said many Safer Drug Consumption Facilities (SDCF) in other countries had been set up by clergy.

He drew comparisons with the appointment of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as chairman to South Africa's Truth and Reconcilliation Commission.

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It was set up in 1995 to compile an objective record of the effects of apartheid on South African society and also played a key role in supporting families.

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick was replaced last year by Angela Constance after figures revealed another annual record for drug deaths in Scotland in 2019.

She has said the government is determined to overcome the legal barriers that currently restrict it from establishing SDCFs.

The 1,264 fatalities were double the number when Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister in 2014, giving Scotland a death rate three and a half times higher than England and Wales.

Rev Casey, of Springburn Parish Church, said: "If you look at the success of the Truth and Reconcillian Commission in South Africa.

"They stopped mass murder just by stepping into the middle of it.

"Desmond Tutu stepped into the middle of something and said 'let's stop for a moment and think, how do we go forward from this'.

"I think the Church of Scotland still has a good position in Scotland as the national church. The people are still going to listen to us on most things. I know there are certain things that they wouldn't agree with us on.

"We are coming at it from a neutral position. We could stand in the middle and represent families who have lost people but ultimately to hold both parliaments to account because no one is doing that right now.

"Why is Nicola Sturgeon saying she took her eye off the ball? It suggests there are things that could have been done.

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"It's being used as a political football. Is she waiting till she gets to a stage where she gets full control before she takes it seriously by which time we will lost many more lives.

"There would be far more power if the church was involved.

"The safe injection rooms in Canada, Australia New Zealand and Germany were all started by the church. The church was seeing people dying all the time and said enough is enough, we are opening a safe injection centre. If they want to come and prosecute us, then so be it."

Plans to set up a SDCF in Glasgow would require a change in Westminster-controlled drugs policy. 

Although several top Scottish police officers have voiced support for SDCFs, Scotland’s Lord Advocate James Wolffe has refused to take responsibility for the granting of a “letter of comfort” that would allow police to turn a blind eye to such initiatives.

In September last year, an appeal for a drug treatment activist to be given an exemption for his mobile consumption facility in Glasgow was rejected by the UK government.

Alison Thewliss MP had called on the Home Office to grant Peter Krykant permissions for his mobile safe consumption facility in a converted van.

Rev Casey said: "It takes bold action to really change something."

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He said ministers or priests were in a good position to advocate for families, often providing a first line of support for grieving relatives and those battling addictions themselves.

"The 12 step programmes all stopped during lockdown and a  came to the church for help because we could sit and talk to them. Unfortunately, a large number of them ended up back on drugs and then probably misjudged how much they needed.

"So we have lost a whole cohort of people that had recovered successfully for a long time and I think that's the saddest thing I've seen over lockdown. It's just horrendous.

"We have said to people, we are here, come and talk to us. Methodone is okay if it is used properly but there are people parked on methodone for generations now.

"My view is, all they were doing with methadone is what the Swiss are doing with heroin.

"They are giving them the high they are looking for but it's costing the NHS a whole lot of money, whereas diamorphine costs next to nothing.

"If they come through an injection centre, they will be seen by social workers, they would be seen by a doctor, it's a one-stop-shop to help keep them alive."

"It's quite liberating to hear addicts tell their stories and how they gave up but very seldom are families mentioned in that."