No easy solutions for Drug Deaths Taskforce one year on


It is a year since the Ministerial Drug Deaths Taskforce was formed. The reason for the Taskforce was clear, the ‘shocking’ escalation in the rise of drug-related deaths over the last five years required urgent attention. The pain of loss being suffered by families and within communities was, and is, palpable. ‘Urgent and sustained action’ was required to prevent this unnecessary loss.


Almost £4 million has been allocated by the Drug Deaths Taskforce to projects to support its work reducing harm and deaths.


The taskforce has announced the Scottish Government funding for research and front-line services to help tackle the drug deaths public health emergency over the next year:


  • £1 million for 10 research projects examining different approaches to tackling the public health emergency
  • £3 million for Scotland’s Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to deliver on the six evidence-based strategies set out by the Taskforce to reduce drug deaths and drug harms


Details of the 10 research projects sharing the £1 million funding can be found here. Two of these research project directly involve pharmacists.


This first project involving pharmacists was a project to conduct a pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) of the PHOENIx intervention, generate sufficient information on recruitment, intervention fidelity, retention, sample size, resource use, outcomes and perspectives of patients, to demonstrate an impact on non-fatal/fatal overdose, and inform a subsequent definitive RCT.


The assertive outreach intervention is centred around the relationship between pharmacist independent prescribers working in partnership with Simon community partnership (SCS) workers and patients who are homeless and have overdosed on drugs. The intervention ensures wrap around and out of hours care is provided, after hospital/Emergency Department discharge, through assertive outreach, acting as a bridge back to mainstream care. Specifically, a pharmacist or nurse prescribes, treats, refers, and the team take the patient to Alcohol and Drug Recovery Services for same-day re/initiation or dose increase and follow up. Full harm reduction interventions. SCS worker addresses housing, benefits, advocacy, social prescribing.


The second pharmacy-related study of the ten aims to create a novel Intranasal Take Home Naloxone (ITHN) intervention overdose prevention package for the prescription opioid overdose risk (POOR) population attending community pharmacies in Fife. To explore mechanisms to move elements of the intervention to an online/postal format to create needed flexibility with respect to COVID-19 restrictions. To determine whether it is feasible to recruit community pharmacies to be involved and for these community pharmacies to recruit patients and their family members. To test the ITHN intervention within a sample of community pharmacies in Fife to access the feasibility and acceptability of this for patients, family members, and community pharmacies/pharmacists via quantitative measures and qualitative interviews.


The task force, which has now been operating for a year, also launched a new website to inform stakeholders, service providers, people who use drugs and their families on their work.


In addition, a new strategy to tackle stigma will encourage a more informed and compassionate approach towards people who use drugs and their families. Over its first year, it has gathered evidence which shows the stigma is one of the main factors preventing people from seeking treatment.


Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said:


“I want to thank Professor Catriona Matheson and all the members of Scotland’s Drug Deaths Taskforce for their hard work in its first year.


“This is not a problem with a quick solution and I know they have spent many hours gathering evidence about the true extent of this emergency and developing and implementing strategies to tackle it. This funding will enable it to act using what it has learned from individuals’ lived experiences.


“I’ve travelled all over the country meeting as many people who use drugs and service providers as possible and I have been told repeatedly that stigma is a real barrier to people accessing treatment.


“Stigma can come from many sources, but most damaging is self-stigma where people believe they are not worthy of support. It is costing lives every day in Scotland and I believe this new strategy will help us tackle what is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges we face.”


Professor Catriona Matheson, Chair of the Drug Deaths Taskforce, said:


“Since the taskforce first met in September 2019, we have been urgently reviewing evidence of what can best address Scotland’s unique challenge, and putting that evidence in action.


“The Annual Report details our progress in identifying critical lines of enquiry and actions to take us forward. The taskforce recognises that we all need to get away from a search for a mythical, single, magic bullet and towards a programme of implemented strategies that not only works but engenders a new level of trust, sharing and collaboration in Scotland’s key agencies. We believe in positive, sustainable change.”


“The Taskforce approach has been one of evidence into action. Year one was our Evidence Review and Immediate Response Phase. We initiated an immediate response consultation to capture the views of the wider community. There were areas where the evidence was already known and clear. From this, we developed our six evidence-based strategies that were shared with local areas to provide a framework for their local response. For example the distribution of naloxone, the need for rapid access to good quality treatment and the importance of rapid out-reach to people who experience a non-fatal overdose.


“There are gaps in evidence that we seek to fill through a research fund and new approaches to address the multiple and complex needs of some people, that we feel are part of the unique Scottish context. This is being addressed through an innovation fund. Year Two of the Taskforce will be the Action and Review Phase when work implemented in phase one will progress with ongoing monitoring and evaluation.


“We really regret that the engagement component of our work was scaled back due to COVID restrictions. We had planned a meeting in Ayrshire in March as well as a conversation café event in June in Lanarkshire. However we are now reigniting this work to continue to build participation and access wider lived and living experience, albeit in a slightly different format. The importance of working in partnership with communities across the country is key to being able to drive down drug deaths and prevent further pain for families and friends of those who suffer an unnecessary death.”


This article is being shared under the Open Government Copyright licence.


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