‘Bold policies’ needed to tackle drug deaths crisis, says royal college

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Bold policies such as decriminalisation and consumption rooms are needed to help reduce Scotland’s record rates of drug-related deaths, says a new report from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. While the country’s drug deaths crisis is ‘complex’, it says, much more could be done to address the issue.

Consider the evidence base, says the report

Among the document’s recommendations are for the Scottish and UK governments to give ‘evidence-based consideration’ to the decriminalisation of drug possession, and for politicians to work together constructively and listen to the views of those on the frontline. ‘The political debate on Scotland’s drug deaths problem has been, at times, unhelpful,’ it states, and stresses that cross-party consensus is essential, along with action to address socioeconomic factors such as employment, housing and education. The college also urges the new minister for drugs policy, Angela Constance (DDN, February, page 5), to ‘maintain an open dialogue with the wider medical community on policies which could give people who use drugs person-centred care in the right place, at the right time.’

‘Urgent research’ is also needed to examine the links between poverty and drug-related deaths, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drug use, it adds, as well as more research on ‘complex poly-drug use’. The college also states its support for the targeted administration of naloxone and for further action to tackle stigma.

Prof Angela Thomas: ‘Our report proposes some key interventions.’

‘Many of the college’s fellows and members regularly treat and consult with people who use drugs, and I know that the recent National Records of Scotland data will be of great concern to them,’ said the college’s acting president, Professor Angela Thomas. ‘Our report proposes some key interventions which can be taken now including the introduction of a drugs consumption room, and a heroin assisted treatment programme in all major centres in Scotland. Decriminalising drug use should be considered in Scotland, and the college would urge the UK government and the Scottish Government to work collaboratively on this key policy area. We believe that drug-related deaths should be fundamentally treated as a public health issue.’

‘The college’s leadership, in reviewing our national shame of drug-related deaths and considering their role, is very welcome,’ added chair of the country’s Drug Deaths Taskforce, Professor Catriona Matheson.Tackling this through a non-stigmatising, evidence-based, public health approach is crucial and frontline clinicians are vital to that.’

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has promised ‘up to £2.75m’ to help people at risk from drug-related harm to stay connected to services, including the distribution of smart phones and the development of ‘alert and responder apps’. ‘Digital connectivity is an essential part of modern life, and for people who need access to drug-related services it could be a life saver,’ said Angela Constance. ‘This funding will help people at risk from drug-related harm get the right help at the right time. For instance, it will help keep people connected to support following a near fatal overdose, after contact with outreach services, or if they are in shelters or community care settings and as part of after-care following treatment or recovery.’

Drug deaths in Scotland: an increasingly medical problem at www.rcpe.ac.uk – read the report here