Sturgeon ‘out of touch’ with Scotland’s drug death crisis

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of being “out of touch” with what’s happening in Scotland’s streets and prisons over the drug deaths crisis.

New drug death statistics published on Tuesday morning revealed that there have been 722 suspected drug deaths so far in Scotland this year, which suggests this year’s figures will be as high or even higher than last year.

Drug deaths in Scotland have increased for seven years in a row to record levels.

In an interview that aired on Monday night, the First Minister admitted to having no knowledge that hundreds of taxpayer-funded phones given to prisoners were being used to deal drugs.

Humza Yousaf, then justice secretary, said the phones were secure and their use would be “practical and safe.”

The Scottish Conservatives have submitted an Urgent Question in the Scottish Parliament on reports that prisoners have hacked the supposedly ‘unhackable’ phones, which are now being used to deal drugs.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Drug Policy Minister, Sue Webber MSP, said: “These new statistics are heartbreaking. If this appalling trend continues, drug deaths will increase again to another shameful record.

“Scotland’s drug deaths crisis keeps getting worse because Nicola Sturgeon is out of touch with what’s really happening on our streets and in prisons across the country.

“It’s shocking that the SNP Government appears to be clueless that hundreds of taxpayer-funded phones given to prisoners are being used by criminals to deal drugs. Nicola Sturgeon didn’t even know it was happening.

“The SNP’s supposedly “unhackable” phones have played right into the hands of drug dealers and organised crime. Not only have these phones been a gift to drug dealers – but they cost the taxpayer an astronomical £2.7 million as well.

“We need an urgent explanation of how this shambles happened and the SNP must start to prevent drug use in prison by stopping the supply.

“Nicola Sturgeon has to start listening to frontline experts and tackle the wider drug death crisis by backing our Right to Recovery Bill, which would finally guarantee everyone who needs treatment can get it.

“It is on her watch that the drug death crisis has spiralled out of control.  She took her eye off the ball and left vulnerable people with nowhere to turn to for help. These new figures show she’s still not focused on this crisis.”

Notes:

The quarterly drug death statistics can be found here:

Drug deaths in 2021 are on target to be the highest on record. The first 6 months of this year saw 722 suspected drug deaths. If this trend is followed that would lead to a total of 1,444 suspected drug deaths for the year.

Higher than the 1,339 deaths in 2020. (Scottish Government, Suspected drug deaths in Scotland: April to June 2021, 14 September 2021, link; NRS, Drug Deaths in Scotland 2020, 30 July 2021, link).

Prisoner Phones: Links to Nicola Sturgeon’s interview on ITV and what then SNP Justice Secretary said on prisoner phones are below:

ITV: The ‘unhackable phones given to prisoners by Scottish Government – which were hacked to buy drugs. (ITV News, 13 September 2021, link).

Humza Yousaf said previously: ‘We will make sure that the use of mobile phones in prisons is done in a way which is practical and safe’. (Scottish Government, 17 April 2020, link).

He also said: ‘Mobile phones [for prisoners] are restricted, and those security restrictions will continue’. (Justice Committee, 18 August 2020, link).

He tweeted: Prisoner mobile phones ‘are not smart phones. No inbound calls, outbound calls monitored, only calls to pre-verified numbers, support services are pre-programmed, security seal on phones’. (Humza Yousaf’s Twitter, 16 November 2020, link).

He also said: ‘The existence of the security provisions [for prisoner mobile phones] is exactly why we are taking the necessary time over that. As the current phone system is not 100 per cent risk free, I cannot sit here and give Jamie Halcro Johnston an absolute assurance that there will be no issues whatsoever. However, I can assure him that if any should be identified they will be dealt with swiftly and effectively.’ (Scottish Parliament, 11 June 2020, link).

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