SELKIRK politician John Lamont has refused to apologise for claiming NHS Borders is encouraging drug use by issuing take-home kits for heroin addicts.
South of Scotland SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse has demanded he says sorry for the remarks included in a press release last week.
Tory Mr Lamont, who represents Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, picked up on a national report which showed NHS Borders handed out more Naloxone kits – a tablet used to temporarily reverse the effects of a heroin overdose – per 1,000 people than any other area of Scotland.
Mr Lamont said last week: “This drug will encourage heroin users to test their limits as they know that there will be a fall-back should they overdose.
“This is not helping the situation and will encourage increased drug use.”
But the region’s health board angrily denied the claims, stating the use of the kits was to prevent drug-related deaths and were only given to addicts at high risk of overdosing.
And Mr Wheelhouse believes his Holyrood colleague should now retract his drug-use comments.
He said: “John Lamont’s comments on Naloxone use are utterly ill-informed, irresponsible and an insult to the highly-respected medical professionals in NHS Borders and indeed the team at Borders Addiction Services which is one of the highest-performing services in Scotland.
“Obviously, drug abuse is a very serious problem in rural areas such as the Scottish Borders and indeed right across our nation, and the best way to avoid the misery associated with drug-related deaths is to discourage people from taking drugs in the first place.
“Unfortunately, however, there are people who do find themselves in a lifestyle that leads them to become addicted to Class A drugs such as heroin, and we as a society have a duty not to abandon people who have a drug problem.
“The Naloxone kits prescribed by NHS Borders and elsewhere are designed to save a life, not to encourage drug use and to date they have been used 132 times to save lives.
“They are a safety net, and their use has been recommended by medical experts as an important intervention when things go wrong and addicts suffer an overdose.”
He continued: “Rather than ineptly criticising the NHS Borders team, Mr Lamont should immediately apologise to them for failing to recognise that the Borders is the first area of the country to meet the recommended distribution of Naloxone and apologise to the families of drug addicts for his reckless, ill-researched and ignorant comments which seemed, in his yearning for another soundbite, to imply that some lives are not worth saving.”
Asked to respond, Mr Lamont said he had nothing to add, but told The Wee Paper he stood by his previous comments.