Scottish election 2021: Drugs activist Peter Krykant criticises Scottish Government for 'causing pain to thousands'
A Holyrood candidate standing on a platform to tackle Scotland’s drugs deaths crisis has said Scottish Government decisions to slash funding for rehabilitation and outreach work has "caused pain to thousands of families".
Peter Krykant, who is standing as an independent in Falkirk East, spoke out after Nicola Sturgeon’s remark in the TV leaders’ debate on Tuesday night that she had taken her “eye off the ball” when challenged on the record numbers of Scots dying from drug use.
Scottish drugs deaths are at the highest rate in Europe, with 1,264 dying in 2019. The figure is likely to have risen further during the Covid pandemic.
The Scottish Government cut £47 million of funding from drugs and alcohol addiction services between 2015 and 2019.
However, the First Minister has now appointed a dedicated drugs minister and launched a drugs taskforce, as well as pledged a £250m investment in services.
However, Mr Krykant, who runs a “drugs bus” in Glasgow offering mobile safer drug consumption facilities to addicts, said it was “all too little, too late”.
"The most startling aspect after record deaths in 2014 and 2015 was the Scottish Government cutting budgets for alcohol and drug partnerships, and since then drug deaths have doubled,” he said.
"As the only candidate ever to run for Holyrood elections with an open background of mental health issues, addiction and street homelessness, I feel that I could hold the government to account to make sure we don’t ever again make these dreadful decisions, which have caused so much pain for thousands of families right across Scotland.”
He added: "The driver of deaths due to drug addiction is economic deprivation.
"We need to invest in our local grassroots services and make sure our children get an education that helps them secure employment. With a growing education attainment gap and so many kids living in poverty, hope for future generations is not currently high.”
Ms Sturgeon was challenged on ITN on Thursday night regarding the cut in rehabilitation beds and addicts’ support.
She said: “On rehabilitation beds, there’s probably been too much time in Scotland been spent debating this … some say it’s the whole answer, others say it’s only one part and if you don’t then treat people properly when they come out of rehabilitation it goes back to the beginning.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “I used the phrase ‘eye off the ball’, but it wasn’t that we didn’t care, it wasn’t as if we didn’t try to do things. But I cannot look at the number of people who’ve lost their lives to drugs in Scotland and conclude the things we were doing were all the right things.
"That’s what we are seeking to fix. The drugs death taskforce is about trying to join up thinking."
However, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said it was “jaw-dropping” to hear Ms Sturgeon claim ‘too much time’ has been spent debating the need for rehab beds.
Lib Dems leader Willie Rennie said: “More than 4,250 people died drug-related deaths since the last time we had an election.
"At that election I pleaded with the First Minister to reverse her cuts to alcohol and drug partnership budgets. I warned that this was a mistake. The tragic truth is that Scottish ministers didn’t see drug reform as a vote winner.”