Claims SNP's refusal to fund drug treatment has led to rocketing death crisis in Scotland

Press/Media: Expert Comment


An explosive report claims the Scottish Government’s refusal to properly fund drug treatment has led to a rocketing deaths crisis.

Academics blame it on a “real terms” cut in budgets for alcohol and drug services, from £114million to £53million between 2007 and 2019.  

Drug deaths went from 455 in 2007 to 1187 in 2018 – a rise of 160 per cent.

A further increase is expected to be confirmed tomorrow when official figures for 2019 are published.

The Scottish Government has challenged the report – titled “Drugs and Alcohol Today: Explaining how funding decisions link to increased risk for drug-related deaths among the poor” – produced by academics Iain McPhee and Barry Sheridan of the University of the West of Scotland (UWS).

A study examined six key areas in an Audit Scotland 2009 report, which the report claims the Scottish Government largely ignored.  

It alleges £20million spent over two years on the Scottish Drug Deaths Task Force was fake “sophistry”, as it only replaced money taken out of services earlier.

The study say: “This analysis provides robust evidence that Scottish Government funding processes and governance of drug and alcohol services increased risk to vulnerable drug users and document evidence that link these risk factors to increased drug-related deaths.”  

It claims deprived communities have suffered, with the devolution of health from Westminster, leading to people in Scotland facing poorer treatment pathways than the rest of the UK.

The report adds: “Drug policy governance by the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland since 2009 have disproportionately affected communities of interest and communities of place already experiencing stark inequalities.

“These budget decisions have resulted in widening inequalities and increased drug-related deaths within communities in Scotland.” The authors conclude that in “diverging politically and ideologically from Public Health England, and Westminster, Scottish Government drug policy and financial governance of drugs services contributes to increased risk factors explaining drug-related deaths within deprived communities”.

Sheridan claims problematic substance use and drug deaths are area-based problems that require area-based solutions.

The report says: “There is little evidence that monies allocated to the Drug Deaths Task Force will have any measurable impact in the communities where deaths are occurring.”

Last night, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We do not recognise how these figures have been calculated and they appear to fail to recognise all of the additional funding that has been provided over recent years.

“We have invested almost £895million to tackle problem alcohol and drug use since 2008, and the total financial resource is higher, including contributions from NHS and other statutory partners.

Period14 Dec 2020

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleClaims SNP's refusal to fund drug treatment has led to rocketing death crisis in Scotland
    Degree of recognitionNational
    Media name/outletscottish daily record
    Media typePrint
    Duration/Length/Size2 pages
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    DescriptionThe report authors have created an online conference titled 'only junkies: who cares if they die'
    link here:
    Producer/AuthorMark McGivern, Iain McPhee, Barry Sheridan
    PersonsIain McPhee, Barry Sheridan


TitleScottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Alcohol and Drugs
LocationScottish Parliament Holyrood, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Period4 Nov 2017