New Year, a new vigour.

Professor Catriona Matheson ,

03 January, 2021

Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce:  Forward Plan 2021

In September last year, a group of people  - experts, academics, people with lived experience, leaders in public and emergency services – were convened by the Minister of Public Health to urgently tackle what was then Scotland’s most pressing health emergency.

15 months on, and with the major interruption of another unrelated, health emergency, are there any signs that The Drug Deaths Taskforce is making progress, are there any reasons to be optimistic about an eventual reduction in Scotland’s drug-related-deaths, and the personal tragedy each represents for families and communities?

I believe there are.

The Forward Plan for the Taskforce was published last month. It is available here on the Taskforce website as we bid not only to make the work, plans and expected impact of our work transparent and accessible, but to move the focus and often emotionally-charged debate around drugs to be on future actions rather than perceived past wrongs.

So what’s new in the plan?

We give ourselves 2 years to complete our mission of identifying how to best meet Scotland’s unique challenge. And save lives as we do so by putting evidence and learnings into immediate action. Our work so far has made it clear there is no single, silver bullet solution. Instead, Scotland needs a multi-faceted approach involving many different agencies and players. Our plan categorises these actions into those that can keep people alive at the point of overdose, those that can reduce the risk of overdose, and those reducing vulnerability to dangerous drug use and the wider impact on communities and families. Over 14 commissioned Tests of Change, 10 research projects and 85 sponsored initiatives across Scotland’s Alcohol and Drug Partnerships will identify the optimum balance, and the systemic change these must deliver.

And what else is new?

I welcome the establishment of a Minister for Drugs.  This dedicated post will allow Scottish Government to drive the Drug and Alcohol Strategy Rights Respect and Recovery and allow the DDTF to focus on the Emergency Response of keeping people alive if they overdose, and Reducing Risk by offering a support and/or treatment pathway for those who do overdose and reducing risk of overdose.  There is still much to do to increase naloxone distribution, ensure all areas have a near fatal overdose pathway and allow rapid and equitable access to treatment across Scotland.  This is where our focus must be in 2021 and the DDTF will work with the New Minister to make this happen. 

As with Scotland’s Covid response, an engaged and informed Scotland is essential to any hope of eventual success.  And as this is an issue that affects all of Scotland, I ask for that, so that in 2021 we can turn the corner and start to reverse the trend.

Catriona Matheson