STILL, people are dying.

Every day people are losing their lives from addiction.

It is now more than two years since Nicola Sturgeon admitted the Government took its “eye off the ball” on drug deaths.

It has been two and a half years since a dedicated drugs deaths minister was appointed and £100 million pledged for rehab places.

And it's been three years since drug deaths summits in Glasgow were held.

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According to campaigners and advocates for more and better treatment options, there has been no meaningful change.

A bill to give people the right to treatment if they want it is soon to be published by the Conservatives but is lacking the crucial support of the Government.

It has been drafted by the recovery group Favor, which wants a greater emphasis on rehab and choice of treatment for people.

Another bill, to introduce drug consumption rooms, is being worked on by Glasgow Labour MSP Paul Sweeney.

The unavoidable truth is while Scotland waits for action, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters still stand at gravesides mourning deaths that could and should be prevented.

The Government’s eye may well be on the ball now but the ball does not appear to be going anywhere.

MSPs and campaigners who have been waiting for the promised action say they are still waiting.

And most importantly so are those who desperately need help.

A new study into the effectiveness of opioid agonist therapy treatment, like methadone, has been published, looking at hundreds of drug deaths over the last decade.

It found methadone is “protective” in that people are far more likely to die of an overdose if they are not on methadone than if they are.

It also, however, found that there was a big rise in deaths when funding for drug and alcohol services was cut between 2014 and 2016 which the report author Dr Andrew McAuley of Glasgow Caledonian University said was “catastrophic” for people.

He also concluded: “Increasing drug related death rates among both those on and off opioid agonist therapy over time highlight the urgent requirement for introducing and evaluating other interventions alongside opioid agonist therapy to tackle the rapid rise in drug related death risk among this vulnerable population to globally high levels.”

He also says: “Opioid agonist therapy remains protective but is insufficient on its own to slow the increase in drug related death risk for people who are opioid dependent in Scotland.”

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Methadone on its own is not enough. Methadone as the main response is not enough.

Other treatments and interventions are needed but are not coming quickly enough.

Those whose eyes have been following the ball closely for a long time are frustrated at the lack of action.

Annie Wells, Conservative MSP for Glasgow, has been closely involved and has a greater awareness of the problem than most MSPs.

Glasgow Times: Annie Wells MSP (Photo by Jamie Simpson/Herald & Times) - JS

Wells wants the Right to Recovery Bill to be backed by the Government.

She said: “There is no support from other parties. I don’t see any reason why others can’t support this.”

She knows it is not the only solution.

Her anger is palpable, she said: “It is disgusting that nothing has changed ... the Scottish Government should have taken the bill on themselves."

The MSP says there is not enough funding available for councils to refer people to any small increase in rehab beds.

She said: “If it was something else killing so many people, something would have been done.”

Sweeney says progress has been “painfully slow”.

Glasgow Times:

He said: “The actions of the Government have in no way matched their rhetoric.

“The harsh reality is that every day they delay, people die and families are left to pick up the pieces.

“It cannot be right that proposals to fix this crisis through the establishment of Overdose Prevention Centres and increased access to recovery services are being left to opposition parties and campaigners to devise.  

“That is the job of government, and it is a job that they are failing miserably at.”

Annemarie Ward, chief executive of Favor Scotland, is clear in her assessment that the people in charge of drug and alcohol policy have failed and those with valuable lived experience are being deliberately sidelined.

Glasgow Times: Annemarie Ward pictured at home in Glasgow

She said: “Since the drugs death taskforce was set up in 2019 deaths have gone up by 12%. That speaks for itself.”

She added that while opioid substitutes are protective it is more effective in England than Scotland.

She says what is missing here is “a workforce that helps people to recover".

Or as she puts it, “people who have walked the walk before you” and who “know how to get out of a hole”.

What we seem to have is another evaluation study, when what is urgently needed is action.

Serious meaningful action that will not only keep people alive but save lives in a way that can help people get their life back.