Drugs deaths taskforce chair announced

Professor Catriona Matheson’s group will consider whether drugs powers need to be devolved

Friday 5th July 2019

A leading drugs expert at the University of Stirling is to chair a new taskforce to combat rising numbers of deaths linked to substance misuse, the Scottish Government has announced.

Professor Catriona Matheson heads up the Drugs Research Network Scotland and has researched areas including how to provide the heroin-overdose-blocking treatment naloxone.

The taskforce she is to chair will explore what treatment or legal changes could be made to ‘help save lives,’ including devolving more drugs powers to Scotland.

This would include the ability to bring in medically supervised drugs consumption rooms of the type campaigners have been calling for in Glasgow.

Professor Matheson says bold thinking is needed to reverse the trend.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “I am very pleased that Professor Catriona Matheson has agreed to head up this taskforce. She has a great deal of experience in this area, both through her role as Trustee of the Society for the Study of Addiction and as Convenor of the Drugs Research Network Scotland.

“What Scotland faces in terms of drugs deaths is an emergency. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy and tackling this issue is a public health priority.

“I want to ensure that the work of the taskforce is driven by a strong evidence base and it is my desire to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience of using drugs, and their families, are heard

“I will give consideration to any proposals that may help to tackle this issue.”

The taskforce will look in detail at whether the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, reserved legislation that can only be changed by the UK Parliament, is fit for purpose and whether responsibility for this area should be devolved to Scotland.

It will consider whether the legislation is preventing the health service and local councils bringing in a more public-health-based approach to addiction.

A Midlothian mother recently told healthandcare.scot of her personal struggle to change addiction services to make them less intimidating and more welcoming.

In 2017, 934 Scots died as a result of drugs and it’s predicted the next round of statistics will show a ‘significant increase’.

Professor Catriona Matheson said: “I am honoured to accept this responsibility to deliver real change through a strengthened public health approach.

“I am keen to examine the evidence, and work across the landscape, involving those with lived experience of drug use and their families.

“We need to be bold in our thinking and our actions to reverse the trend, recognising that behind the statistics is personal tragedy."