New taskforce begins work to tackle rise in drug deaths

The taskforce will examine the causes of drug-related deaths, and seek 'solutions to prevent the use of drugs resulting in the loss of so many lives.
The taskforce will examine the causes of drug-related deaths, and seek 'solutions to prevent the use of drugs resulting in the loss of so many lives.

A new taskforce set up to address the alarming rise in drug deaths will meet for the first time next week.

The group, chaired by Professor Catriona Matheson of the University of Stirling, was established after it was revealed there were 1187 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018 – a 27 per cent increase on the previous year .

The taskforce will 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.

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.”

The first meeting follows a Government commitment to spend an additional £20 million over the next two years to reduce the harm caused by drugs.

The funding will also allow the taskforce to provide direct support to projects in tackling the issue.

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.”

He added: “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.”

David Liddell, CEO of Scottish Drugs Forum, expressed the hope that the taskforce would be able to address the escalating rates of preventable drug overdose deaths.

And he called for “swift and large scale action” .

Mr Liddell also highlighted a need to improve access to treatment, and the need to eliminate unplanned discharges, with too many people falling out of services.

Mr Liddell said: “The key aims should be to follow the evidence of what works.

“We need to increase by at least 50 per cent the number of people in drug treatment.”