Same-day treatment among measures in ‘landmark’ drive to prevent drug deaths in Scotland

Drug addicts should be able to get treatment and medication on the same day they ask for help, the Scottish Government’s drug deaths taskforce has said.

The taskforce has published 10 standards for the treatment of drug users, with the Government pledging to implement them by April next year.

It calls for problematic drug users to have access to both medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and mental health care on the day they seek support.

The proposed measures have been hailed as potentially the “most significant development” in tackling the country’s drug deaths crisis.

Scotland had 1,264 deaths with a drug-related element in 2019 – a higher rate than across all EU countries, and more than three times the UK as a whole.

The National Records of Scotland (NRS) figures showed a 6% increase on 2018, when Scotland also recorded the highest rate across Europe.

The standards include plans for people thought to be at a high risk of drug-related harm to be “proactively identified and offered support” and able to make an informed choice about using medication for MAT.

Drug users should also be able to receive support and remain in treatment “for as long as requested”, according to the taskforce, as well as having access to advocacy and help for their housing, welfare and income needs.

Chairwoman of the drug deaths taskforce, Professor Catriona Matheson (pictured), said: “The standards constitute the most significant intervention in the strategy to reduce the unacceptable level of drug-related deaths.

“The standards will form a critical element of the longer-term, sustainable actions that will save lives, complementing the emergency actions taken to date.

“The evidence is clear that using street drugs and not being in treatment is dangerous and life-threatening.

“The taskforce wants more people at risk to be in treatment programmes.”

Minister for drug policy, Angela Constance, said: “We now have a set of standards which are safe, accessible and person-centred. These will help ensure consistency of treatment across the country.

“Making help available and giving people an informed choice is an essential part of respecting a person’s rights and dignity. It is also an approach that is more likely to be effective and provide people with the support and treatment they need.

“We have said a national mission is needed to tackle the drug deaths emergency and that is why we allocated an additional £250 million over the next five years to improve and increase services for people affected by drug addiction.

“These MAT standards will mean everyone with problematic drug use can access the right support for them regardless of their situation or location.”

Chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum, David Liddell, said: “Scotland’s MAT Standards are the most significant landmark in improving Scotland’s response to problem drug use in over a decade.

“Implementing the standards will be the most significant development in addressing the ongoing public health emergency of drug-related deaths.

“People who enter treatment are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society and often find engaging with services difficult.

“Services need to be more attractive, more approachable and more accessible; and reach out to people who have been in treatment but no longer are.

“These standards are the basis for making services truly person-centred. Implementing them will help services develop empowering relationships with people in treatment.

“Full implementation of the standards will save lives, reduce harm and transform people’s quality of life.”

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