By Andrew Horne, Director, Addaction

THE time for wringing our hands is over. Scotland’s drug related deaths are at an all-time-high. We need solid action…and we need it now.

Our country has a serious drug death crisis; the worst in Europe, in fact. Every day at Addaction Scotland, we work with the people behind these numbers. Seeing individuals draw on strength they didn’t know they had and go on to make amazing recoveries from drugs and alcohol never ceases to amaze us. And on the flip side, the impact of a sudden death among our people never lessens.

Just last week, one of our long-term volunteers (who was previously supported by Addaction) died suddenly after a relapse. He was the life and soul of his local service, saying he was “delighted to be able to give something back to the community”. His passing has cast a shadow over everyone connected with the service. He is sorely missed and mourned but, in reality, he has become another drug-related death statistic.

At Addaction, Scotland’s biggest drug and alcohol charity, we feel deeply for family and friends when someone dies – but that is not enough. We need to take bold action and we need to take it now.

We suggest a five-point plan to be considered by the Scottish Government’s newly-formed drug death task force:

1, Adopt the Portuguese decriminalisation model. Portugal had a very similar problem to Scotland, with spiralling drug-related deaths. Its reaction? Treat drug-related offences as a health/social care issue, rather than crimes. Now, anyone coming to the attention of the police gets referred to treatment rather than caught in the revolving door of criminal justice. Portugal’s latest drug-related death figure was 34. When compared to the 1,187 who died last year in Scotland (a country half the size) Portugal’s success speaks for itself.

2, Make it compulsory for all first responders (like police, first aiders and paramedics) to carry Naloxone. This easy-to-use antidote for heroin overdose buys time to get to hospital and ultimately saves lives.

3, Establish drug consumption rooms. Safer injecting facilities get people off the streets and into safer environments, with medical staff who can teach reduction or get people engaged in local recovery services like Addaction’s. We need Westminster to allow Scotland to do this.

4, Put significantly more money into community-based treatment/recovery services. Addaction’s support staff will work with people on a 1-1 basis for as long as is needed, but charities like ours have limited resources. We want to reach more people and we need to do that now.

5, Get cross-party and First Minister support to tackle drug deaths. To change Scotland’s drug landscape, we all need to be on the same page. We want the Government to listen to support staff and the people they work with and treat drug-related deaths as the national emergency that it is. Scotland’s public places smoking ban was a resounding success and there’s now talk of eradicating tobacco in the years ahead. Drug deaths need to be seen as a similar priority.

Attitudes are gradually changing in Scotland. People are seeing that not only has the just-say-no approach failed, but that those who are dependent on drugs are often self-medicating. We don’t think twice when someone uses alcohol to unwind or be sociable, so who are we to judge the use of drugs to block out physical and emotional pain or childhood trauma? People don’t need exclusion, pity or a criminal record; they need genuine help. We hope that is exactly what the new drug death task force will bring to Scotland.