HOLYROOD Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick has called on the Home Office to join forces with the Scottish Government to help stem the rising tide of drug-related deaths.

He is pleading with Home Secretary Sajid Javid for a face-to-face meeting in addition to ensuring that an appropriate UK Government minister attends a proposed cross-party summit on the issue in Glasgow.

The letter to Javid has been sent in the week official statistics showed that 1187 people lost their lives to drugs last year, a 27% increase on the previous year and the highest number on record. Scotland now has a drug death rate higher than alcohol-related deaths for the first time and is worse than any other country in Europe.

The National: Home Secretary Sajid JavidHome Secretary Sajid Javid

FitzPatrick, whose Dundee West constituency is one of the worst affected in the country, writes: “As you are aware, the unacceptable rising number of those losing their lives as a result of drug taking in Scotland is a concern to us all and I take seriously the impact this has on individuals, families and communities. On Tuesday July 16, we received the tragic confirmation that 1187 people had lost their lives to drug-related deaths in Scotland last year.

“In response, I am inviting the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government to tackle this problem which claims so many lives. I am now writing to request an urgent meeting to discuss how we can work together to help stop the increasing number of drug deaths in Scotland.

“I would like to discuss arrangements to host a summit in Glasgow on the issue and ask that there is an appropriate UK minister able to contribute. The Scottish Government has already agreed that we will host such a summit, where government representatives, local authorities and the chair of Scotland’s new Drug Deaths Taskforce would be invited, ensuring the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are also heard. I understand that there is cross-party support for this conversation, including from Miles Briggs MSP, who has written to me to offer his support.

“I look forward to hearing from you on how we might engage immediately on this matter in order to make progress.”

The National: Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrickPublic Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick

FitzPatrick’s overture to Javid is the latest attempt by the Scottish Government to engage Westminster in tackling a crisis that has been relentlessly building.

A new Drugs Deaths Taskforce was recently set up in Scotland on the initiative of Scottish ministers but the two governments remain at loggerheads on the best way to reduce the death toll.

Westminster retains responsibility for drug policy across the UK and so far shows no sign of yielding control and allowing a change in the law or a legislative exemption that would permit Scotland to adopt alternative methods to the rest of UK.

The setting up of supervised drug consumption facilities, where addicts can inject in a safe environment, have been in the planning phase since 2016 in Scotland. As it stands any addicts or medical staff using or working at such a facility would be liable to prosecution under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.