The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is to meet online with party leaders to talk about strategies to tackle Scotland's "appalling" record on drugs deaths and suicide.
Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair is holding online meetings with ministers, including Nicola Sturgeon, on Tuesday, to discuss the way forward and about the church's role in helping tackling the problem.
A total of 1,264 people in Scotland died of drug misuse in 2019, a six percent increase on the previous year. There were 833 probable suicides in Scotland in 2019, up from 784 the previous year.
Rev Dr Fair has worked and supported people living with addictions in Arbroath in Angus since 2006. He set up the Havilah Project at St Andrew's Parish Church which also provides mental health support services introduced after the suicide of Frightened Rabbit frontman, Scott Hutchison, in 2018.
Speaking to Premier, Dr Fair said the church is very keen, along with others, to tackle the situation:
"Most recently, over 1,200 deaths, directly attributable to drug misuse. I know that there are people out there who would say, Well, you know, that's just people's own fault, you know, they go down that road, but we can never take that attitude. These are often very vulnerable people who struggle greatly with mental health. And that takes us into the second subject, we have very worrying rates of suicide. So we have an issue in Scotland. And it's an issue that is measurably different to how it is in other parts of the UK and Europe. And we as a church are very keen that we along with others tackle the situation."
The Moderator will also urge party leaders to recognise that the covid-19 pandemic has had a "disproportionate impact" on vulnerable people in the most deprived communities.
"Although I am the Moderator of the General Assembly, I'm first and foremost a parish minister and these subjects are ever before me in the lives of real people. We've got to do better," he said.
Rev Dr Fair added that although the government has a part to play in working to reduce the numbers of deaths from drugs and suicide, "it's the whole of our communities, and not least churches that need to be involved."
"We as churches are intrinsic within our communities. We are not fly by night we've been here we're going to be here. And so people know us and there's a level of trust and sometimes it makes a difference that we're not seen to be the authorities if you know what I mean. I've been active in this field for years. And we do find ourselves engaging with people who slipped through the net, and who don't get in contact with the official services, if I can use that phrase. So we're not trying to dress ourselves up as Crusaders coming over the hill to fix everything. But what we are seeing that in partnership with local and national government, we can bring something to the table to make a difference."
"Do you know through this covid pandemic, the church has built up stronger links, I think it's true to say, with government and government officials than were present before, we've worked very amicably with government, even through difficult subjects, like the closure of buildings, for worship, and so on. So I think there's a model there, that when we work with government, trying to find common ground where that exists, then we can benefit everybody in the community. So that would absolutely be our higher power wish list if I can put it that way."
Rev Dr Fair is holding online meetings with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, Douglas Ross of the Scottish Conservatives, Willie Rennie of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens.