The Scottish Government has re-stated its commitment to tackling the country’s ongoing drug deaths crisis in its response to the final report from the Drug Deaths Taskforce. Measures were being taken across a range of policy areas including employment, education and justice, as well as health and social care, the government stated.
The taskforce’s final report, which was published last summer, called for a ‘major cultural change’ and a new kind of treatment system defined by quality and genuine choice (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/time-for-a-complete-culture-change-says-drug-deaths-taskforces-final-report). Concentrated social deprivation was a major contributory factor to the crisis, it said, along with a healthcare system that ‘often sees only the drug problem and does not recognise the person’, discouraging many from accessing the help they need. Overhauling the system was necessary to ensure that people with substance issues received parity of ‘treatment, respect and regard’ with other health conditions, it stressed.
Action was also needed to make the treatment system easier to navigate, the task force document stressed. A report by Audit Scotland earlier last year called for a clear plan to improve ‘complex’ drug and alcohol services, adding that the range of organisations working across different sectors meant that lines of accountability were not always clear. While there had been ‘more drive and leadership’ from the Scottish Government it was ‘still hard to see what impact policy is having on people living in the most deprived areas, where long-standing inequalities remain,’ said auditor general Stephen Boyle. ‘Drug and alcohol data is not good enough, and there is a lack of transparency about how money is being spent and allocated.’
Despite a 1 per cent reduction in deaths in 2021 – the first fall in almost a decade –Scotland’s drug death rate has been consistently higher than anywhere else in Europe, and is more than three and a half times greater than that for the UK as a whole. Scotland’s alcohol-related deaths are also at their highest level for 13 years, despite the introduction of minimum unit pricing. As is the case with drug fatalities, the death rate remains far higher in the country’s most deprived areas (www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/scottish-alcohol-deaths-at-highest-level-for-13-years/).
Many of the Drug Deaths Taskforce’s 20 recommendations and almost 140 action points were already being addressed, the Scottish Government said, with new announcements including a stigma action plan and more money for children and families and treatment services within primary care settings. All the measures were underpinned by two principles – that ‘services treat problem drug use the same as any other health condition, and that people with lived experience are involved in policy decisions’, it said.
‘We continue to face a public health emergency and cannot underestimate the scale of this crisis,’ said drugs minister Angela Constance. ‘The Drug Deaths Taskforce was formed to provide independent expert advice on our response to this emergency and this cross-government action plan includes a broad range of initiatives which will not only support the complex needs of people who use drugs but also help support prevention and early intervention.’
Drug Deaths Taskforce response: cross government approach at www.gov.scot/publications/drug-deaths-taskforce-response-cross-government-approach/