Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Thursday, 8 November 2012

Road to recovery, drugs strategy debate 1

Community Safety and Legal Affairs Minister Roseanna Cunningham tells MSPs methadone reduced drug-related deaths, blood-borne viruses and crime and stabilised lives during a debate on the the Scottish government's national drug strategy, The Road to Recovery , on 8 November 2012.

Ms Cunningham said: "Does methadone reduce drug-related deaths, blood-borne viruses and crime? We know it does.

"Does it stabilise lives? Yes, it does.

"But methadone is only one of a number of treatment options available.

"We are clear it can be effective but only as a component in a package of care, treatment and recovery."

Ms Cunningham highlighted progress she felt had been made, pointing out that "90% of people started treatment for their drug problem within three weeks of their referral between April and June 2012" nine months ahead of schedule.

She contrasted this with waiting times before 2007, when waiting over a year was "not uncommon".

The minister added: "Sadly, we must recognise that we lost 584 people to a drug related death in Scotland last year.

"Each one of these deaths is a family and community tragedy but we know that of that number only 14 may be wholly attributable to methadone."

The official statistics, released in August, revealed there were 584 drug-related deaths in 2011, a 20% increase on the previous year and 76% higher than in 2001.

She concluded that stigma was "one of the biggest challenges people using drugs have to face" and it must be tackled.

Labour's community safety spokesperson Jenny Marra welcomed the progress made on waiting times, but said the government's drug strategy was "unravelling".

Ms Marra highlighted the fact that methadone was linked to more than half of the drug deaths in 2011.

She said the methadone programme cost £36m with pharmacists charging different rates across Scotland for dispensing the drug, a "postcode lottery" she said should end.

The Labour MSP added any savings from that should be invested in residential rehab centres across Scotland.

Annabel Goldie, the Conservative communities spokesperson, said also focused on the "depressing" drug deaths statistics from 2011, with methadone related deaths exceeding heroin related deaths for the first time.

Ms Goldie welcomed the progress made in addressing drug abuse in younger people.

She went on call for an inquiry into why there is underused capacity in rehabilitation facilities.

Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said it was "deeply, deeply, regrettable" the Daily Record, supported by some in the Labour party, had demonized pharmacists just for doing their job in dispensing methadone.

The Lib Dem MSP said: "Methadone is part of the solution not part of the problem".

Mr Rennie said it should be health professionals to decide what treatments worked best for drug abuse, not for politicians to choose.

SNP MSP Brian Adam told the chamber: "The most important people in this equation are not us, and not even the professionals, but the addicts and their families willing to come forward to get treatment."

The second part of the debate can be viewed below:

Road to recovery, drugs strategy debate 2

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