Taskforce Mission and Terms of Reference



  1. Scotland continues to face significant challenges relating to the use of illicit drugs, including rising numbers of drugs deaths. Tackling this issue, including reducing the number of deaths, is an important public health priority. The Scottish Government’s policy is set out in the national strategy “Rights, Respect, and Recovery” and has been revitalised with a National Mission to improve lives and save lives. The National Mission sets out the Scottish Government’s priorities for implementing a public health approach to reduce drug-related harm and death.


  1. The Drug Deaths Taskforce was established by the Minister for Public Health and Sport, supported by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, in June 2019, to support the delivery of Rights, Respect Recovery. The Taskforce has the central aim of identifying measures to improve health by preventing and reducing drug use, harm and related deaths.


  1. The Taskforce will examine the key drivers of drug deaths, and advise on further changes in practice, or in the law that could help to save lives and reduce harm. Its ambition is to develop recommendations which are action and outcome focussed to achieve this goal, consistent with the National Mission.


Membership and Responsibilities

  1. Membership of the Taskforce is at the invitation of Scottish Ministers.
  1. Ministers have agreed a core membership of the Taskforce; this can be found on the Taskforce website. Core members will be responsible for discussing and agreeing Taskforce recommendations and commissioning work to inform these recommendations. Individual members will have additional responsibilities that relate to their specific remit on the Taskforce.
  1. Members submitting apologies should notify the Secretariat in advance or where they are unable to send a deputy. To ensure the group is able to act swiftly, members are asked to only delegate to others where they must and that any deputies are empowered to make decisions on behalf of the member.
  1. The Taskforce will also maintain a broad virtual team of individuals and organisations, responsible for activity within the drug and alcohol sector and/or provide valuable experience or insight to inform Taskforce work. Members of this virtual team will be asked to attend meetings on an issue specific basis and engaged when work relates to their interests. Where necessary, members of the virtual team will be invited to short life working groups to assist in the development of evidence-based recommendations.
  1. All members will make a full declaration of interests. If a member is uncertain as to whether or not an interest should be declared, they should seek guidance from the Secretariat. 



  1. The primary role of the Taskforce is to provide independent advice and recommendations to Scottish Government Ministers and the wider drug and alcohol sector to develop an evidence based strategy which will improve the health outcomes for people who use drugs, reducing the risk of harm and death.
  1. The recommendations will be shaped around the following three high-level areas of focus:
  • Emergency Response: Maximising capacity and capability of emergency services, families and friends, and agencies to deal with a potentially fatal overdose by being properly equipped and trained.
  • Reducing Risk: Maximising the support, access, and range of practical and appropriate choices of pathways for anyone with high-risk drug use.
  • Reducing Vulnerability: Addressing issues that can pre-dispose the vulnerable to move into higher risk use of drugs through relevant key agencies and reducing the associated impact on wider communities.
  1. The Taskforce will specifically:
  • Examine and publish evidence of the root causes of drug deaths, the unique Scottish experience and how they can be prevented.
  • Collate and publish good practice about what has worked in other parts of the UK and internationally to prevent death and harm arising from drug use.
  • Work with partners and the Scottish Government to identify, spread and sustain good practice in Scotland.
  • Identify specific barriers in the planning, commissioning and delivery of addiction services in Scotland, and provide recommendations for how such barriers can be overcome. Such barriers might include stigma, inequitable access, poor retention practice, and lack of consistency in how patients are treated or inadequate governance structures.
  • Review whether the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 affects the provision of a strengthened and consistent public health approach to drug use, recognising that this is reserved to the UK Parliament and any changes will require the agreement of the UK Parliament. The review will consider whether the 1971 Act has an impact on proposals to provide public health harm reduction services or on the availability of diversion from arrest or court.
  • Identify the extent to which the availability of appropriate programmes and treatment options limit the use of diversion from the criminal justice system or the use of constructive sentencing options.
  • Monitor and evaluate changes, recommending expansions and scale-ups where the evidence suggests that this will help to reduce harms and deaths.
  • Identify the full range of support services which help to reduce harm and identify deficiencies in the delivery framework, availability and provision of such services.
  • Make recommendations for changes in current health and social care practice and on how a public health approach to drugs might be more fully realised across all relevant services and in the justice system. This should include a clear timetable for changes in the short, medium and long term. 



  1. The Taskforce will ensure that they deliver their remit in the context of the following principles:
  • Act quickly, bringing evidence, experience and ideas to meetings and take on work as necessary in between meetings to ensure rapid progress.
  • Inspire and drive change and improvement in the drug and alcohol sector.
  • Focus on action and solutions for both immediate and long term change.
  • Draw on evidence, including lived, living and family experience of drug use.
  • Consider the experience of people who use drugs and their interaction with all stages of the health, social care and justice system.
  • In all work inclusivity, diversity and accessibility should be considered, including geographic accessibility.
  • Ensure change leads to improvement throughout the system.
  • Promote whole system working with and through a wide range of partners.
  1. To achieve the aims in light of these principles, the Taskforce will acknowledge and value the fact that each member will bring their own knowledge and understanding of drug use in Scotland and elsewhere. The Taskforce will also benefit from the networks that support some of the member organisations, as well established reference groups to ensure that the spectrum of voices are heard.
  1. The members of the Taskforce will bring their different viewpoints to the review of evidence to form joint recommendations. In the case of differences of opinion or interpretation, the Taskforce will ensure these are surfaced, addressed and do not get in the way of rapid work to set out solutions.
  1. The Taskforce will ensure that all projects supported are appropriately evaluated, and the learning is captured to support their recommendations. The Taskforce will develop a detailed lessons learned process, supporting shared learning networks. Within this framework of evaluation, the Taskforce will have a focus on quality improvement, within the context of increased investment, and the encouragement of innovative and ambitious approaches.
  1. Members will recognise the current reserved nature of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the operational independence of the Police Service of Scotland, the Lord Advocate’s independent responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of crime and the investigation of deaths in Scotland and the independence of the judiciary, particularly in relation to sentencing decisions.


Engaging the wider sector

  1. Some members will have a role in representing the views of a particular group of stakeholders; in these cases, they will accept a role in relaying messages from Taskforce meetings back to others with an interest as well as delivering feedback to the Taskforce. They will have a role in consulting these groups, including any reference groups, on the work of the Taskforce, the evidence base and on proposals, raising any comments and concerns and sharing ideas.
  1. All Taskforce members will have a role to play in communicating with and engaging the wider sector, which Scottish Government officials will support.



  1. The Taskforce will report to Ministers both in providing regular updates on their plans and progress, and in delivering final recommendations against the three high-level areas of focus set out above.



  1. Secretariat support for the group will be provided by the Scottish Government Population Health Directorate. The Taskforce will be able to draw on wider expertise from across the Scottish Government, as well as amongst organisations from the wider virtual team and beyond.
  1. The Secretariat will work with partners to ensure that the full range of stakeholder views are incorporated into the work of the Taskforce, and their work is fully informed. The Secretariat will ensure appropriate communication and coordination with the wide range of other organisations, activities and Programme for Government commitments relevant to improving the experiences of people who use drugs and are at risk of harm and death.



  1. Taskforce members will ensure they and their organisations work with communications colleagues and the Secretariat to allow consistency and coordination of messaging around the Taskforce’s work and support the successful engagement with the wider sector as well as the public.