Scotland politics

Tory Annie Wells calls for 'radical' action on drug deaths

Annie Wells
Image caption Annie Wells said a "full, evidence-based approach" should be taken to the drugs death crisis

The Scottish Conservatives' public health spokeswoman has said she is willing to consider the decriminalisation of drugs.

Annie Wells MSP also said she was open to the idea of drug consumption rooms - facilities where drugs can be taken safely.

Current drug laws, which are reserved to Westminster, prevent possession of Class A drugs within such a facility.

The UK government has consistently said it is opposed to any change in the law.

'Evidence-based approach'

Ms Wells said she had written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to make Scotland's drugs death crisis a top priority.

Scotland currently has the highest drug death rate in the European Union.

Image caption In 2017, most drug-related deaths involved heroin but a large percentage had also taken pills

The Scottish government wants drug policy powers handed to Holyrood so it can alter policy to treat the issue as a public health, and not judicial, matter.

Asked whether she backed measures including decriminalisation and fix rooms, Ms Wells said a "full, evidence-based approach" should be taken. "I am open to listening to what these issues and concerns can be", she added.

Drug summit

Ms Wells continued: "We do need to look radically at this and I will be open to whatever comes my way and I will look at it all as an evidence-based approach.

"If that seems to be the right way then that is something we will have to look at in greater detail and urge the Scottish government and UK government to do the same."

She called on Boris Johnson to hold a summit on the issue "as soon as possible".

The UK government announced in October it would bring experts together in Glasgow before Christmas to discuss the issue.

However, it was postponed due to December's snap general election.

Ms Wells called on both the UK and Scottish governments to place the issue at the top of their agendas and to put their political differences aside.

She said: "I lost a neighbour. Across Scotland we lost 1,187 people in 2018, and I heard from so many families who lost loved ones in 2019.

"So I've asked the prime minister to make the drug deaths crisis his top priority in Scotland.

"This year we should be focused on saving lives instead of getting caught up in politics and the usual constitutional blame game."

The Scottish government said it planned to hold a summit on drug deaths at the start of 2020.

They said they had repeatedly invited the UK government to attend but that, to date, they had refused.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We firmly believe the outdated Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 should be amended to allow us to implement a range of public health focused responses", a Scottish government spokesman said.

"We have called on the UK government to amend the act or to devolve those powers to Scotland, and this must be part of any discussion we have."

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the number of drug deaths across the UK was "extremely concerning", in particular the figures for Scotland.

She said improving access to treatments such as Naloxone - used to treat overdoses of methadone, morphine and fentanyl - was key.

She added: "We will continue to work with the Scottish government to tackle drug-misuse and harm and sustain our support for programmes which reduce the health-related harms of drugs, such widening the availability of Naloxone to prevent overdose deaths."

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