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Scotland's appalling drug death tally will "undoubtedly" rise to a new record this year, experts warned yesterday after Nicola Sturgeon admitted her government "took our eye off the ball".
Annemarie Ward, chief executive of the recovery organisation FAVOR Scotland, said the "situation on the ground is getting worse" despite Ms Sturgeon announcing more than £250 million of new funding and sacking her public health minister.
Ms Ward, an SNP member, warned "the current system is broken" and users in the areas with the worst drugs problem, such as Glasgow, are still being denied access to treatment.
She was appearing alongside Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, who unveiled a 'Right to Rehab' pledge that would enshrine people’s right to access residential rehabilitation services in law.
Scotland currently has the worst drugs death rate in Europe and a rate around three and a half times worse than England and Wales.
The latest figures released in December showed 1,265 people died from drug misuse in 2019 - a six per cent annual rise and more than double the total of deaths in 2014.
Mr Ross challenged Ms Sturgeon during a TV debate last week why she had allowed a drug rehabilitation facility in her own Glasgow Southside constituency to close two years ago, despite the surge in deaths.
The First Minister replied that "I think we took our eye off the ball on drug deaths", but Ruth Davidson said this was "an astonishing shrug of the shoulders" and suggested the SNP leader had been distracted by independence.
FAVOR Scotland has recently sought senior legal counsel to bring cases to court when people are denied access to rehabilitation or drug treatment.
Ms Ward said: "Drug death numbers undoubtedly will rise. This is yet another heartbreaking year for the recovery and treatment community. We are told funding is coming but it is not reaching the frontline.
"A postcode lottery has developed and unbelievably, it is people in the hardest hit areas, particularly in Glasgow, who are still being denied access to treatment."
She and Mr Ross signed a 'Right to Rehab' pledge and he promised to introduce a three-part policy in the first week of the new Scottish Parliament.
In addition to a legal guarantee to treatment, it would create an autonomous national funding pot to bypass local Alcohol and Drug Partnerships and produce national standards and referrals guidance.
Mr Ross said: "For too long, the government has taken its eye off the ball, by its own admission. Tackling drug deaths has not been a priority and that has to change now. Too many lives have already been lost."
Angela Constance, the SNP's Drugs Minister, said: "The number of people who die of a drug-related death in Scotland is unacceptably high, and each one of these deaths is a preventable tragedy."
She said the extra £250 million over the next parliament "includes £100 million to ensure that there are enough residential rehab places for everyone who wants one".