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Actions speak louder than words when dealing with Scotland’s drug death scandal

A lot of words have been spoken and written over the years about Scotland’s drug death crisis, many of them sincere, many simply rhetoric rolled up and forgotten in the next day’s news cycle.

Every year the situation keeps getting worse, and every year we hear the same repeated expressions of sympathy from a revolving crop of health ministers.

Not that the 1339 people who lost their lives over the last year ought to be forgotten.

Each death, as the First Minister said yesterday, is a tragedy.

But let’s be straight with Nicola Sturgeon.

If shows of emotion, heartbreak and sorrow from those who have been in power long enough to make a difference had come from other politicians – for example a Tory Prime Minister – they would have been ridiculed into silence long ago by opponents and the public.

Among the many words on the subject, myths are sewn, that Scotland’s Trainspotting generation has come of age, that the legacy of Thatcherism still haunts the country, that the situation is somehow uniquely Scotland’s “shame”.

None of that really explains why Scotland has a drugs death rate three and half times higher than the rest of the UK and the highest in Europe.

Amid all the expert groups and strategies and documents that have come and gone over the years one fact and one figure stand out.

In 2015, shortly after Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister, Scottish Government funding for Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, rehab in shorthand, was transferred from the Justice department to Health.

That led directly to a 22 per cent reduction in funds over a year.

The shortfall was meant to be met from health budgets, but half of NHS boards reduced funding support the next year. That left fewer than 70 beds across Scotland for thousands of patients.

A pattern for spiralling, and it could be argued unnecessary, deaths was set by that one political decision.

The new £20million a year budget for residential rehabilitation, announced by Sturgeon in the wake of last year’s figures, is welcome but does not really touch the sides of what is required.

Until everyone who needs treatment gets help on the day that they need it, people will carry on dying.

If dependency is treated as a public health issue instead of a criminal one, it need not be a source of shame.

That approach has to be accompanied by a change in public, as well as legal, attitudes to drug dependency which, in turn, takes political determination and courage.

Over two decades of devolution these qualities have been either lacking or been squandered in other directions.

There are no more excuses really, no more promises, no more constitutional or political hiding places on Scotland’s drug deaths scandal.

Actions speak louder than words, and everyone has had enough of words.

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