Details of a new Governmental Taskforce set up to address drug-related deaths in Scotland have been announced by the Public Health Minister.
Addressing the Scottish Parliament, Joe FitzPatrick MSP said that the first meeting of the group will take place on 17 September 2019.
The collective will aim to examine the main causes of drug deaths, promote action to improve health outcomes for people who use drugs, and will advise what changes, in practice or in the law, could help save lives.
The expert group have also been tasked to consider the impact of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 on taking a public health approach to the drug overdose emergency, including proposals to provide harm reduction services, such as medically supervised overdose prevention rooms.
The first meeting follows a commitment made in the Programme for Government to spend an additional £20 million over the next two years to improve service quality. The funding will also allow the Taskforce to provide direct support to projects which use evidence-based approaches to address harms associated with problematic drug use.
Public Health Minister, Joe FitzPatrick said:
“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.
“Our new Taskforce has the desire and the experience required to tackle this problem and I look to them to help shape how services in Scotland could help save lives.
“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.”
Taskforce Chair, Professor Matheson said:
“We have undertaken a lot of work to prepare for the first Taskforce meeting so that we can hit the ground running.
“Having said that, the scale of the challenge is considerable and I appeal to the wider community to continue to be supportive to enable us to address together the tragedy of drug deaths affecting communities across Scotland.
“I am extremely heartened we have pulled together a strong team who have given their full commitment to the aims of the Taskforce.”
Commenting on the announcement, Scottish Drugs Forum’s CEO, David Liddell, said:
“We welcome the Minister’s statement on the details of the drug deaths task force. What we hope will emerge from their work is clear direction on how to impact on the tragic and escalating rates of preventable drug overdose deaths.
“The key aims should be to follow the evidence of what works. We need to increase by at least 50% the numbers of people with drug problems in treatment. Also, there is a need to improve access to treatment – people can currently wait months for access to opioid substitution therapy. As recommended elsewhere, services need to eliminate unplanned discharges – too many people fall out of services, too often through in-flexible or punitive practice. There is a general need to improve quality – potentially up to 50% of people receiving opioid substitution therapy are on sub-optimal doses.
“These issues are long standing and complex. Swift and large scale action is required.”