Drug deaths taskforce set to meet

Drugs crisis

Campaigners have said the new group must take swift action to reduce the amount of people dying in Scotland

6th September 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Campaigners have called for swift action after a new group which aims to reduce drug deaths in Scotland was unveiled.

Details of a new Scottish Government taskforce set up to address drug-related deaths in Scotland have been announced by Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick.

There were 1,187 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018 – a 27% increase on 2017 and the highest figure in the European Union.

The taskforce, chaired by Professor Catriona Matheson of the University of Stirling, has 23 members with a range of expertise and experience in the substance use and related-fields.

The group will examine the main causes of drug deaths, will promote action to improve health outcomes for people who use drugs, and will advise what changes, in practice or in the law, could help save lives.

It will meet for the first time later this month, and will also consider the impact of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 on taking a public health approach to this emergency, including proposals to provide harm reduction services, such as medically supervised overdose prevention rooms.

The first meeting follows a commitment made in the Programme for Government to spend an additional £20 million over the next two years to reduce the harm caused by drugs. The funding will also allow the taskforce to provide direct support to projects which use evidence-based approaches to tackle the issue.

David Liddell, chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum, welcomed the formation of the group and said it is important action is taken.

“What we hope will emerge from their work is clear direction on how to impact on the tragic and escalating rates of preventable drug overdose deaths,” he said.

“The key aims should be to follow the evidence of what works. We need to increase by at least 50% the number of people in drug treatment. Also, there is a need to improve access to treatment - people are currently waiting months for access to opioid substitution therapy.  As recommended elsewhere, services need to eliminate unplanned discharges - too many people fall out of services, too often through in-flexible or punitive practice. There is a general need to improve quality - potentially up to 50% of people receiving opioid substitution therapy are on sub-optimal doses.

“These issues are long standing and complex. Swift and large scale action is required.”

FitzPatrick said: “What Scotland faces in terms of drug deaths is an emergency – addressing that will need new approaches even if at first they may be challenging.

“Our new taskforce has the desire and the experience required to tackle this problem and I look to them to help shape how services in Scotland could help save lives.

“Building on increases in funding in recent years we’re investing a further £20 million over the next two years to help deliver the proposals that come forward.

“We will also host a drug summit in Glasgow to further explore this issue, ensuring that the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are also heard. I’ve repeatedly invited the UK Government to attend this summit – I hope they will soon commit to doing so.

“There are no easy answers, but if we’re to save lives we need a recognition that change is both necessary and, with the right support, achievable.”