HEALTH Secretary Humza Yousaf has said drug death statistics for last year are likely to be “challenging”.

Figures are due to be published shortly. They come after a number of years of record drug deaths, with Scotland's drug death rate the worst in Europe.

It has been reported that the number of deaths recorded over 2020 will be higher than the 2019 total.

Last year the Scottish Government appointed Angela Constance to the newly created drugs minister position in an effort to tackle the problem, alongside the drugs death taskforce.

Nicola Sturgeon described the crisis as a “national disgrace” and pledged £250 million to tackling it over the course of this parliamentary term.

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Speaking during the opening of a new eye centre at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, Yousaf said: “I couldn’t pre-empt those statistics, it would be wrong of me to do so.

“But I suspect that we’ll see another challenging year.

“Scotland’s challenge around drug deaths, which is a national crisis, a national emergency – that’s why we call it our national mission to deal with our drugs death issue – is not going to be overcome within a short period of time.

“The new minister for drugs policy, Angela Constance, who reports directly to the First Minister, backed by that investment that we’re going to make over the parliamentary term, she’s already engaging with stakeholders, engaging with the UK Government where necessary to try to change the situation and improve it where we possibly can.

“But it will be, I’m sure, another set of challenging statistics.”

Even before the statistics have been published, seven leading drugs charities have announced their support for a Conservative bill aimed at enshrining in law the right to the addiction treatment requested by the individual.

The draft legislation would mean residential rehab requested by someone dealing with addiction and cleared by their doctor would have to be accepted, or a reason given with 24 hours of the refusal.

Services would also be put in place for the families of those struggling with addiction, under the Tory Bill.

Today a group led by Faces and Voices of Recovery (Favor) Scotland – who helped to draft the legislation – backed the proposals.

Favor was joined by the Maxie Richards Foundation, Jericho House, Phoenix Futures, Sisco, Abbey Care and Recovery Enterprises.

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Favor chief executive, Annemarie Ward, said: “Behind Friday’s statistics, which we are sure will be as shocking as previous years, lie thousands of distraught families and communities in pieces.

“The drug crisis will be Scotland’s shame until the Government is brave enough to do what is necessary.

“Just now, the Scottish Government is not acting quickly enough to tackle the drug death crisis on our streets. They are doing just enough to limit the damage, not to solve the crisis.

“We have developed a Right to Recovery Bill that is about equality and justice for all. It should not be controversial to demand that everyone gets the treatment they need.”

According to Ward, SNP MSPs have privately voiced their support for the proposals.