Rehab beds target ‘on track’, Scotland’s first minister insists as drug deaths rise

Politics

Humza Yousaf has insisted the Scottish government is “absolutely on track” to meet its target to increase residential rehabilitation places for drug users, as he said he was “devastated” by the latest increase in deaths.

Data released on Tuesday showed 1,197 people died as a result of suspected drug use last year – up by 105 from 2022.

The figure – which is produced using management information from Police Scotland rather than deaths confirmed to have been caused by drugs – had been on the decline in recent years.

The first minister described drugs as being a “deep-rooted, endemic problem”, telling MSPs it is “one of the most difficult challenges this country has faced, an issue that has plagued our society not just for years but for decades”.

Douglas Ross accused Mr Yousaf of “repeating the same mistakes” as previous first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who conceded she had taken her “eye off the ball” when it came to tackling drug deaths.

The Scottish Tory leader said Ms Sturgeon had “let a rehab facility in her own constituency close in 2019” and challenged Mr Yousaf on the closure of the “vital” Turning Point 218 service for women in Glasgow.

Mr Yousaf insisted that had been a “council decision” and not one made by Holyrood.

More on Drugs

Raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Mr Ross stated Ms Sturgeon cut funding for drug treatment in 2015 and “drug deaths rose”.

He added that Mr Yousaf has “cut the treatment budget in real terms” and has only managed to create just over 30 new rehab beds despite a promise for hundreds.

Mr Ross said: “The addiction crisis in Scotland is out of control. Since the SNP came to power drug deaths have doubled.

“They are the worst in Europe, and new figures show deaths are increasing again.

“Scotland’s shame has not gone away. Nicola Sturgeon admitted she took her eye off the ball, hasn’t Humza Yousaf done exactly the same?”

Read more:
Scotland drug deaths decrease in 2022 – but rate still higher than rest of Europe
The UK’s drug problem: How can we stop people dying from drugs?

Mr Yousaf said the Scottish government has invested £38m in expanding the number of residential rehabilitation places available – saying there are now 32 more places with another 38 “in the pipeline over the next few months”.

He added: “With the projected funding we have, we believe we are absolutely on track to meet our commitment to expanding overall residential rehab capacity from 425 to 650 by 2026.”

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Plans for the UK’s first facility for the safer consumption of illegal drugs have been approved

Regarding the Tory’s suggestion he had taken his eye off the ball, Mr Yousaf insisted: “I reject that in its entirety.”

He told MSPs the drugs budget had increased by 67% between 2014-15 and 2023-24 – adding this level of funding would be maintained in 2024-25.

The Scottish government has an “unwavering, unshakeable commitment” to tackling the issue, he insisted.

Citing moves to develop a safer consumption facility in Glasgow and increased availability of naloxone, which can reverse some drug overdoses, Mr Yousaf said: “This is a deep-rooted, endemic problem in our society and we are taking a range of significant actions to try to tackle this insidious problem in our society.”

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