Scotland’s Drug Death Figures Highlight the Need for Urgent Action

This week the Nationwide Information for Scotland launched the most recent figures for drug deaths within the nation, revealing that tragically 1,051 individuals misplaced their lives within the 12 months main as much as March 2022. While this marks a lower of 21% – and the bottom determine in half a decade – the necessity to guard towards complacency is stark, and rather more must be completed to deal with the medication disaster in Scotland and the UK as an entire.

 Scotland stays the drug loss of life capital of Europe and simply final month the Scottish Authorities backed a report calling for a bunch of globally-evidenced hurt discount measures to be applied. The key caveat is that the foreword from Medicine Minister Elena Whitham indicated that measures might solely be applied with additional devolutionary powers – medication coverage is reserved to Westminster. This has solely furthered requires Independence as a route to attain this transformation, when the present UK Authorities appears proof against proof primarily based adjustments to drug coverage.

 While the report makes sound suggestions which would scale back the tragic variety of preventable drug deaths, there may be concern that drug coverage is as soon as once more changing into a staple of a Westminster-Holyrood battle. There are a number of coverage options to cut back hurt, struggling and fatality which might be applied inside the present legislative framework, however the focus stays on legislative change that merely is not going to occur in a single day.

 It’s simple that the SNP have gone additional than the Conservatives in Westminster, and additional than Labour within the Senedd in terms of medication, however there isn’t a excuse for the numbers of preventable deaths after 13 years in energy. Minister Whitham admitted in an interview on Channel 4 that the Scottish Authorities’s 22% reduce to alcohol and drug partnerships in 2016 have immediately contributed to the tragic rise in deaths. After only a few months within the function, her frank, sincere and direct response is welcomed.


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 Moreover, while deaths decreased by over a fifth, the figures associated to deprivation didn’t lower. You’re 16 instances extra prone to die from a drug associated loss of life when you dwell in probably the most disadvantaged components of Scotland, in comparison with the poorest areas of Scotland. Glasgow and Dundee constantly rank highest for the variety of deaths, and the Scottish Authorities should tailor their strategy to deal with these areas, and the underlying explanation why individuals dwelling in deprivation could also be extra inclined to dying from medication.

 A discount in deaths in comparison with the earlier yr is constructive, however the numbers should be seen inside the context of unprecedented will increase in drug deaths previous this, having practically doubled over a decade. Deaths have now diminished in two successive years, however the fee is simply too sluggish, and the necessity for fast, holistic motion is big. Every life misplaced is somebody’s brother, sister, father or daughter and the human price of this disaster must not ever be ignored.

 The necessity for fast motion is escalating throughout the UK, regardless of this week’s figures displaying no less than some enchancment. This is because of alarming experiences of artificial opioids rising in the UK’s drug provide. Drug help providers throughout the nation are noticing an increase in extraordinarily worrying clusters of extremely potent artificial opioids known as ‘nitazenes’, which has led to warning being issued by police forces and public well being chiefs.

 On condition that drug associated loss of life information is simply launched 18 months after the 12 month recorded interval, Cranstoun is urging coverage makers to not sleep stroll into a possible public well being emergency.

 Nitazenes are artificial opioids estimated to be between 50-300 instances stronger than heroin. In the US, the place artificial opioids are extra widespread within the drug provide, the speed of overdose deaths involving artificial opioids in 2021 was practically 22 instances the speed in 2013. Fentanyl is among the largest killers of individuals beneath the age of fifty, with over 100,000 individuals dying from the drug in 2022. The rise in prevalence in the UK is linked to a Taliban clampdown on opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan (a vital precursor for synthesising heroin), who’re thought to have been supplying 95% of the market right here.

 The US has declared the disaster a public well being emergency, and there may be rising anxiousness that the UK is heading down an analogous path. No single answer put ahead will eradicate the deadly risks of artificial opioids, however a joined-up, entire system strategy to managing the disaster will scale back the extent of struggling. Scotland, and the UK as an entire, should contemplate proof primarily based options resembling drug checking, overdose prevention centres (OPCs), and diamorphine assisted remedy.

 The UK nonetheless has the chance to get forward of the curve on this creating public well being emergency, however the window of alternative is closing shortly and the results can be devastating.

 Drug checking – services the place individuals can check what’s of their medication – has existed in numerous types within the UK for plenty of years to nice impact, however the Residence Secretary Suella Braverman just lately blocked such services – with out expensive and prohibitive licences – from working at festivals. 

 Overdose Prevention Centres, services the place individuals who use medication can achieve this beneath extra sterile situations and beneath medical supervision, has already been proven to work within the UK, albeit unsanctioned and operated by main activist and colleague Peter Krykant.

 Diamorphine Assisted Therapy includes giving individuals struggling with long-term addictions a secure provide of medical grade heroin twice a day, and is confirmed to ship glorious outcomes – together with lowering the usage of road medication considerably, as evidenced by an analysis by Teesside College.

 Moreover, pathways into remedy, and reaching the cohorts most susceptible to overdose, is crucial. All three proposals highlighted make sure that individuals utilizing medication are usually seen by educated professionals. A current Lancet report analysing the opioid disaster in Scotland highlighted how individuals in remedy are practically 3.5 instances much less prone to die from medication, in comparison with those that will not be. [JS1] 

 An array of evidence-based options, encompassing an entire system strategy, already exists, but the UK lags behind European and North American neighbours on rolling out initiatives which are confirmed to work.

 The SNP already again most of the evidence-based proposals highlighted, as per the aforementioned report launched final month, and to some extent they’re considerably hamstrung by the UK Authorities regarding the Misuse of Medicine Act 1971. Nonetheless, versus speaking about what can’t be completed with out devolution, they have to deal with the vary of measures which will be applied now – and at tempo.

 The drug disaster within the UK is additional difficult by a determined want for each the Authorities and the Opposition leaders to be ‘robust’ on medication, in addition to the monetary implications of the price of dwelling disaster and a pointy rise in inflation. Despite this, leaders throughout the UK should take daring motion and work constructively to mitigate this creating public well being emergency.

 The preservation of life, safety of communities and capability on stretched emergency providers should usurp political posturing. 1,051 individuals have tragically misplaced their lives in simply 12 months. Every one a tragedy, abandoning damaged households and buddies, and we merely should do extra to sort out the disaster.