Glasgow drug deaths ‘unacceptable and shameful’

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Earlier intervention is needed to stop the ‘tragic’ number of lives lost to drug misuse across Glasgow increasing further, as the latest figures saw the city pass a grim milestone of more than 300 deaths last year.

Addiction and support services are well-established in the city, and have intervened on thousands of occasions over the past year, perhaps ensuring the death toll was not higher still.

And they said more work needed to be done to engage with drug addicts and provide addiction treatment early.

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Councillors described the figures as “unacceptable and shameful”, and warned that the situation appeared to be getting worse in the city.

The manager of FASS (Family Addiction Support Service), an organisation supporting families affected by a loved ones drug or alcohol abuse, says that even though the number of deaths in Scotland dropped by 1% from 1339 to 1330, the figure is “still too high”.

Glasgow’s drug and alcohol partnership also described each death as a tragedy and that the number of deaths in the city was “too high despite having a well established recovery service”.

The latest figures showed 311 people in the city died as a result of drug misuse in 2021, a rise of 20 from the 291 deaths in 2020. Since 2017, Greater Glasgow and Clyde has had the largest death rate of all health board areas with 33.7 deaths per 100,000 population between 2017-2021.

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Lorraine McGoldrick, manager of FASS, said: “For me, although there has been a decrease overall the figures are still too high.

“These deaths are preventable and for every person that loses their life, there are just so many family members left behind to grieve for a loved one. I suppose that’s what we see here are family members that are in need of so much support because they have lost someone and it is just so sad.

“There is some really good work being done across the city to prevent these deaths but we have still got a long way to go. I think we need to intervene much earlier than we have been.

“We see what this does to family members day in and day out. It has a knock on effect on them. There are children who are left without mothers and fathers and are then brought up by their grandparents because their parents are no longer here.

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“This is causing problems right across Glasgow and leaving family members struggling for support.”

Glasgow City’s Alcohol and Drug Partnership, has been carrying out interventions through its WAND initiative which assesses wound care, assessment of injecting risk, naloxone provision and dry blood spot testing.

WAND started on September 1, 2020 and within a year over 800 individuals had engaged, allowing the group to provide over 1200 WAND engagements, equating to nearly 5000 harm reduction interventions.

Jackie Kerr, chairwoman of the partnership said: “Every drug death is surrounded by its own tragic circumstances. Many people with problematic alcohol and drug use experience significant challenges that put their health and well-being at considerable risk.

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“However, it is widely recognised that involvement in a treatment programme substantially improves someone’s chances of avoiding an overdose and getting the right support mechanisms in place to help them begin their recovery.

“Sadly, Glasgow is still experiencing too high a number of drugs deaths despite having well-established alcohol and drug recovery services that work effectively with the city’s high number of problem drug users.

“While we continue to develop and implement the Scottish Government MAT Standards, we also have our WAND initiative which is providing a suite of harm reduction interventions to those most at risk and our peer-led outreach workers continue to link more and more people into our recovery communities across the city.

“With the new Crisis Outreach service supporting those at significant risk of a drug related death, seven days a week and out of hours, and linking them into same day treatment and recovery, the range of interventions and services we have in the city are all designed to help those most at risk and address the main harms we are seeing among the city’s most vulnerable drug users.”

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Glasgow’s Labour leader, councillor George Redmond, says the latest data is heartbreaking while Conservative leader Thomas Kerr claimed that the new figures are scandalous.

Councillor Redmond said: “It’s heartbreaking. I worry about the city and the country. It is action that is required to prevent families from losing their loved ones. There were 311 people who lost their lives in Glasgow, we should all reflect on that.

“While more than 1300 people in Scotland died. It is unacceptable and shameful in a modern city like Glasgow that we can’t do enough to stop people from taking drugs and stop that addiction.

“This is our children. This is Glasgow’s children. These are Scotland’s children, yet they don’t seem important enough to get the right investment to support them in their struggle with addiction.

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“My heartfelt sympathies go out to the families. This is absolutely shocking.”

Councillor Kerr said that the figures were not encouraging at all.

He added: “We still have the highest drug death rate in Europe and four or five times the amount than the rest of the UK – it is scandalous.

“The biggest problem I think is that the Scottish Government is taking this seriously enough. There are only a small number of decreases in deaths across the country and we are going backwards in Glasgow.

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“The bigger issue here is that we have the same drug policies here in Scotland as the rest of the UK so there must be something we are doing wrong.

“I think that’s more to do with the cuts to rehabilitation and front line services in Scotland that haven’t happened down south.

“The government needs to stop focussing on referendums and the powers it might get and start dealing with these important issues.”

The SNP administration was asked for comment.

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