Scottish Drug Summit needed to tackle ‘public health emergency’, says Minister

By Leigh Taylor

An upcoming drug summit organised by the Scottish Government alongside Glasgow City Council has reopened the discussion on the extent of our drug crisis compared to the rest of the UK. 

The issue has become particularly prominent given the event will take place on 26 February, a day before the UK Government’s same summit and in the same location of Glasgow’s Scottish Events Campus. 

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick, concerned that the UK summit will not sufficiently address drug issues in Scotland, said: 

“What Scotland faces in terms of drug deaths is nothing short of a public health emergency.

The UK event, while welcome, simply does not have the voices of people with lived experience in Scotland at its heart”.

Drug-related deaths in Scotland have long been a talking point in society, politics and healthcare with statistics from last year showing 1,187 people lost their lives in 2018, the highest since records began in 1996. 72% of these deaths were male and The Greater Glasgow and Clyde area accounted for the highest number of deaths with 394. 

With these statistics, Glasgow City Council, who is helping host the event later this month, has advocated for use of a ‘safe consumption facility’ in the city whereby drug users are able to do so in a medically safe environment as well as receiving any support they may require. 

Susan Aitken, Glasgow City Council leader, said: 

“Glasgow is ready to pilot a safer drug consumption facility. We know that it is an intervention which will help protect the public and help save lives”. 

Talk of such measures being introduced has been a polarising issue, and it would appear both drug summits will be taking somewhat different approaches to the issue at hand; the UK Government’s summit will bring together politicians, health professionals and senior police officers while Scotland’s event mentions looking at individual circumstances and stories in relation to drug abuse, viewing it as a public health issue as opposed to a criminal justice one. FitzPatrick said: 

“It’s clear the Misuse of Drugs Act is no longer fit for purpose. To enable innovations, such as a safer drug consumption facility, the law needs to change”. 

With Scotland’s drug deaths being nearly three times that of the remainder of the UK, it is hoped the summit will highlight the issues, causes and possible solutions to the disproportionate drug deaths north of the border. However, not all have welcomed the double-summit move. Scottish Liberal Democrat public health spokeswoman Rosemary Bruce said:

“The Scottish and UK governments ought to be working together to solve this crisis, not engaging in petty point scoring by holding separate conferences on the same issue in the same city only a day apart”. 

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