In the Chamber: 28th November – Public Health Crisis (Drugs and Alcohol).

Public Health Crisis (Drugs and Alcohol)
“This has been an excellent and well-informed debate, with passionate speeches being made from all round the chamber on new approaches to tackle Scotland’s drug crisis. Miles Briggs should be praised for bringing the debate to Parliament.
Although Labour members might not agree with all his submissions, our minds meet on the big picture, which is that Scotland has a troubled relationship with alcohol and drugs, that that culture is ruining the health and wellbeing of too many Scots, and that the range and scale of Scotland’s substance misuse problem cannot be downplayed or forgotten.
Jenny Marra should be congratulated on the suggestion that we should all get our heads together to work out a strategy.
We should do that on this side, as well.
As my colleagues Monica Lennon, Neil Findlay and Jenny Marra made clear in their excellent speeches, the record levels of drug-related deaths are unacceptable.
Scottish Labour is calling on the Scottish Government to face up to the crisis and to declare the situation a public health emergency.
As we say in our amendment, we call on the Scottish Government to have a new strategy
“to reduce the number of drug-related deaths by 50% … in line with the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report”,
and to reduce
“alcohol consumption in Scotland by at least 10% over the next 10 years”.
The ghost at the feast in this debate is health inequality.
Many members, including Alex Neil and Brian Whittle, mentioned that spectre.
The “National Burden of Disease Report 2016” made it clear that drug use and alcohol dependence are major contributors to health inequality.
Members will know that disadvantaged areas have double the rate of illness and early death that richer areas have. In our most deprived areas, drug-use disorders were the leading cause of disease in residents aged 15 to 44.
Some members rightly attempted to look to the future of drug use—the issues on the horizon that we should be concerned about, such as new psychoactive substances and prescribed medication.
If we want lessons about the way forward, we can look at America and the horrors of the opiate crisis.
When I was over there recently, I read that 90 per cent of the people who inject heroin started with ordinary prescriptions for opiates.
It is a very frightening model.
Other developments in the future will be image and performance-enhancing drugs, online supply and blood-borne virus transmissions, which have been mentioned by members.
For alcohol, we know the right direction: I concede to the Government that the quantity discount ban and irresponsible alcohol promotion ban are very sensible.
I also believe in minimum unit pricing, but I will ask about a very specific point, so I give notice of that—I am always fair about that—to the minister.
The minister will know from our previous discussions that the Sheffield modelling on MUP estimated a windfall of about £40 million a year to the alcohol industry.
When will the Scottish Government introduce the regulations that will enact the social responsibility levy, which has been passed by Parliament?
That could provide the funding to tackle alcohol abuse for hard-pushed health services and for third-sector organisations.
In the brief time that is available, I will summarise some points that were made in the debate.
Miles Briggs was right to talk about the scale of drug abuse.
It is a staggering figure—£3.5 billion is absolutely phenomenal.
I also agree with him that we need to look at cross-portfolio work and to take an independent view of methadone.
He also made the point about declaring a public health emergency.
My colleague Monica Lennon gave some quite frightening statistics—the 15,000 substance-abuse deaths over the past 10 years, which she likened to the population of a small town.
Her points about stigma were also well made.
Many members mentioned the importance of safe consumption facilities in Glasgow, which our amendment makes clear we strongly support.
Alison Johnstone, as always, made a well-informed speech.
She emphasised the point about an overarching strategy and prevention being key.
However, one of the main points that came out of her speech was that there has been a 200 per cent increase in drug deaths among women.
Alex Cole-Hamilton gave a thoughtful speech, from which one particular point that jumped out at me was the 23 per cent cut in ADP funding.
He also made an extremely good and innovative point about foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Liam Kerr made some good points about taking an innovative approach and about a commission, and Joan McAlpine used a useful quotation to say that we cannot arrest or punish our way out of Scotland’s drug problems.
That was a very good quote.
I was impressed by Neil Findlay’s powerful speech.
He has great knowledge in this area and he talked about people being “collateral damage”, the enhancement of the criminal network that can happen, the fact that
“The streets are awash with cannabis and cocaine”,
and that the last place a person needs to be when they have an addiction of any sort is in prison.
I am conscious of time, Presiding Officer, so I shall move quickly to my conclusion.
I thank the minister for publishing the new alcohol and drug use strategy this morning, and I welcome the Scottish Government’s move towards recovery-orientated care.
I also want to touch on the point that some members made that we should normalise the issue, because every member will know someone who is dealing with an addiction challenge.
It touches so many lives, because so many people suffer from addiction.
I was struck by a quote that I discovered this morning by a recovering addict who is probably well known to everyone—Russell Brand. He said:
“The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope”