Church of Scotland reacts to "shocking" drug related deaths figures

The Church of Scotland has expressed sadness after new figures revealed that 1,339 people died of drug-related deaths in 2020.

The rate is a 5% increase on the previous year and the highest on record.

Crosses representing drug deaths
In the garden of Springburn Parish Church in Glasgow, each cross represents someone whose death was connected to drug use in 2018.

CrossReach, the operating name of the Church's Social Care Council, provides services for people suffering from substance misuse in Inverness, Glasgow, Stornoway, Edinburgh and Dundee.

Calum Murray, director of Adult Care Services for CrossReach, said: "These latest drug-related deaths statistics are shocking when we remember each of these deaths is a tragic loss to many families and friends across Scotland.

"Our sympathies lie with them.

"While distressing, the figures are not surprising as they result, in part, from years of under-investment in substance use services."

The Scottish Government announced earlier this year that £250 million will be spent on addressing drugs related deaths over the next five years.

No reversal in the trend could have been expected before now as the statistic pertaining to 2020 must be seen in the context of previous underinvestment.

Mr Murray said: "I welcome the swift responses made by Health and Social Care Partnerships and Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to increased Scottish Government funding announced earlier this year.

"CrossReach is actively collaborating with Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Highland in particular, to offer more recovery routes to as many people as possible, who need our support.

"We are increasing bed capacity and staff, recruiting those with experience of addiction whose expertise we value greatly.

"It is encouraging to see the increased availability of Naloxone to more people, particularly paramedics whose life-saving responses in this regard augments that of our staff over several years now.

"Commissioners (statutory agencies) cannot reverse the trend of the last seven years in a few months but I am confident that the new funding, if sustained, together with using charities such as CrossReach to help, will reduce the number of unnecessary deaths."

In May this year, the General Assembly expressed "alarm" at Scotland's drug deaths rate which is higher per capita than any other European country.

Commissioners instructed CrossReach to work in collaboration with the Faith Impact Forum to hold the Scottish Government to account on its promise to reduce drug deaths and to ensure that the appropriate resources are put in place.