Scots and Welsh Lib Dems call for action after drug deaths rise

Figures from the Office for National Statistics released this week revealed that the number of drug-related deaths in England and Wales rose for a ninth successive year in 2021, by 6.2% to a record 4,859. The highest rate of deaths was seen in those aged 45-49. While more than 45% of drug deaths involved opiates, the biggest increase over the last decade has been in cocaine-related deaths, up from 112 in 2011 to 840 in 2021.

Jane Dodds in Wales called for a much more holistic approach to those reported for drug offences, treating offenses as a public health issue rather than a criminal one, learning from best international practice. Earlier, Scottish Lib Dems called for radical action to help those most at risk, including ending the destructive use of imprisonment for people misusing drugs and instead diverting them to treatment.

The ONS statistics show the number of drug related deaths in Wales has reached its highest level ever, with 210 deaths recorded in 2021, compared with 149 in 2020, an increase of 41%. The number of deaths per million people was far higher in Wales than in England.

Welsh Liberal Democrats are calling for radical changes to how drug addiction is dealt with. They want the UK government to learn from the experiences of Portugal and organisations such as the UN in developing policies to drive down drugs deaths. Alternatively, it could devolve justice for Wales so that the Senedd can legislate to do so. The party is also calling for the establishment of safe consumption spaces, which could be achieved under existing Welsh Government powers.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds MS said:

Drug addiction is a health condition and should be treated as such.

We want to see a much more holistic approach to those reported for drug offences, treating offenses as a public health issue rather than a criminal one, learning from best international practice such as that in Portugal.

This would see the diversion of people caught in possession of drugs for personal use into education, treatment and recovery, ceasing imprisonment in these circumstances.

It is clear from these figures today that the current approach by the UK Government isn’t delivering the results we want to see. The Conservatives must develop a new, more progressive approach to drug addiction or devolve the Misuse of Drugs Act to Wales to allow the Senedd to do so.

Two weeks ago, Scottish Liberal Democrats called for the government to make a series of key reforms after a report published by the government’s drugs deaths taskforce found that the current funding for drug and alcohol treatment in Scotland is “woefully inadequate.” Reacting to a Scottish Government statement on Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Standards Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

The Scottish Government has failed those at risk once again. It is far better at talking than it is at acting to prevent drugs deaths.

Despite the government’s commitment to well-meaning homilies and endless working groups, drugs deaths remain stubbornly high. As a country we will never turn a corner on this scandal until the government’s rhetoric is matched by action.

Drugs spokesperson Ben Lawrie added:

The Scottish Government must press forward and ensure that all the money marked for tackling drug misuse gets to the services and service users who need it.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to press for radical action to help those most at risk, including the provision of heroin assisted treatment; ending the destructive use of imprisonment for people misusing drugs and instead diverting them to treatment and education and the decriminalisation of the possession of drugs for personal use.

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