The taskforce set up by the Scottish Government to try to address the country’s rising drug death rate will hold its first meeting later this month. The 23-member group will look at the main causes of drug-related deaths and advise what changes – in practice or the law – could help to save lives.
The group will also ‘promote action to improve health outcomes’ for people who use drugs, and consider the impact of drug legislation on ‘taking a public health approach’ to the issue. This would include proposals to provide services such as medically supervised consumption rooms, the government states.
Scotland’s drug-related death rate is the highest in the EU, with 1,187 fatalities registered in 2018 – the fifth consecutive increase, and 30 per cent higher than the previous year. The Scottish Government recently announced an extra £20m over two years to tackle drug-related harm, which will also allow the taskforce to support projects using an evidence-based approach, the government says. Group chair Professor Catriona Matheson of the University of Stirling said that it intended to ‘hit the ground running’.
‘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,’ said public health minister Joe FitzPatrick. ‘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.’
The group’s key aims should be to ‘follow the evidence of what works’, said Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) CEO David Liddell, which would hopefully lead to a ‘clear direction’ on how to make an impact. ‘We need to increase by at least 50 per cent the number of people in drug treatment,’ he stated. ‘Also, there is a need to improve access to treatment – people are currently waiting months for access to opioid substitution therapy.’
Improving service quality was also a priority, he added, while services also needed to put an end to unplanned discharges as too many people were falling out ‘often through inflexible or punitive’ practice. ‘These issues are long standing and complex,’ he said. ‘Swift and large scale action is required.’