Scotland’s new drugs minister has said she believes the country can start to turn the tide in tackling its drug deaths problem next year through a new “national mission” to address it.
Angela Constance said that people with lived experience and their families must be at the heart of a new mission to tackle this “public health emergency”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon nominated Ms Constance for the newly-created role of minister for drugs policy last week after public health minister Joe FitzPatrick resigned in response to record drug death figures north of the border.
The latest figures recorded 1,264 drug-related deaths across Scotland in 2019 – a record high and the worst toll in the EU.
Speaking after the Scottish Parliament approved her appointment to the new role, in which she will report directly to the First Minister, Ms Constance said: “The scale of Scotland’s drug deaths is a national tragedy. In this new post I am determined to lead work across government that will have a more immediate impact to help those at risk of losing their lives.
“This public health emergency needs a national mission to combat it, and one that has people with lived experience – and their families – at its heart.
“From day one I will work hand in glove with those who have real life and front line experience to shape services and to inform actions we need to take.
“It is my intention to achieve as much consensus as possible. As a first step I have already started to speak with people with lived experience, their families and those with frontline background in tackling this problem. I have also held initial talks with MSPs from across the Scottish Parliament.
“I will continue to reach out in the coming weeks.”
Ms Constance said these conversations will help “set the course” ahead of the First Minister attending the Drug Deaths Taskforce early in the new year, after which she has pledged to report back to Parliament.
She added: “Through my career as a social worker, before becoming an MSP, and as a minister tackling inequality, I have a background in dealing directly with some of the issues surrounding drug use, addiction and the toll it takes on lives and on our communities.
“Scotland’s drug deaths problem will not be solved overnight – but with consensus, hard work and renewed dedication to tackling it, I believe next year can be one in which we start to turn the tide.”
Mairi Gougeon has been appointed the new public health minister following Mr FitzPatrick’s resignation.