First Minister announces expert group to focus on drug-related deaths in Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon has announced the establishment of an expert group to review what is being done to reduce drug-related deaths in Scotland.

The announcement of the group was officially made during First Minster’s Questions on Thursday the 4th of April in response to a question from Miles Briggs MSP.

Mr Briggs asked the First Minister whether she would provide details of the scope and remit of the Scottish Government’s new ‘task force’ to tackle drug deaths.

The First Minister responded:

“The Public Health Minister will convene an expert group to examine the key drivers of drug deaths and advise on what changes, either in practice or in the law, could help save lives and reduce harm.”

There were 934 drug related deaths in Scotland in 2017. The figure for 2018 will be published by National Records of Scotland later in the year but is expected to significantly rise again and may be over 1100.

Scottish Drugs Forum welcomes the announcement in the Scottish Parliament by the First Minister.

David Liddell, CEO of Scottish Drugs Forum said

“This is welcome news. Scotland needs both a clear focus on reducing drug-related deaths and co-ordinated leadership at all levels to implement the measures that we know from evidence are effective.

“People with a drug problem, their families and communities, will welcome the acknowledgement that their lives matter and that these deaths are a concern to all of Scotland. The prevention of drug-related deaths should be a key public health focus over the coming years.  We are heading for a fifth consecutive year of record levels of drug-related deaths.

“It is important that the expert group establish practicable means that can be adopted now to address this issue.  The evidence is clear as regards the steps to be made by services and service planners in health and related areas. These are laid out in our report Staying Alive In Scotland, jointly published with The Scottish Government in 2016 and in The Drugs-related Deaths Rapid Evidence Review: Keeping People Safe published by NHS Health Scotland in 2017.”

Staying Alive in Scotland describes the practical measures to be taken by front-line services and service planners and commissioners to reduce overdose and other drug-related deaths.

The report’s central recommendations on overdose deaths are based in the evidence that –

  • Being in treatment is a protective factor against death
  • Opioid substitution therapy (with diamorphine, methadone or buprenorphine) protects people from overdose
  • ‘Low threshold’ (quick, easy access) services decrease mortality
  • Retention in services is a protective factor against drug related death
  • Treatment should follow clinical guidelines and people should receive at least recommended minimum daily doses of medication (60mg methadone 12mg buprenorphine)
  • Naloxone is an effective intervention in preventing opioid overdose deaths

SDF continues to work with other organisations including Alcohol and Drug Partnerships towards delivering the recommendations of the report.