Chair of new Drug Deaths Taskforce appointed

Professor Catriona Matheson will lead the group.

A new taskforce to tackle the rising number of drug deaths in Scotland is to be chaired by Professor Catriona Matheson from the University of Stirling.

The taskforce will examine the main causes of drug deaths, promote action to improve the health outcomes for people who use drugs, and advise on further changes in practice, or in the law, which could help save lives.

It will collate and publish good practice about what has worked in other parts of the UK and internationally, and work with partners to spread and sustain good practice in Scotland.

The group will also examine whether the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 affects the provision of a strengthened and consistent public health approach to drug use, recognising that this is reserved to the UK Parliament and that any changes will require their agreement, or for responsibility to be devolved to Scotland.

The review will specifically consider what impact the Act has on proposals to provide public health harm reduction services, such as medically supervised drug consumption rooms.

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.”

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. “


The Drug Deaths Taskforce has been established by the Minister for Public Health and Sport, supported by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to enable the delivery of the strategy.

The taskforce will monitor, support and facilitate the delivery of the commitments set out in the Scottish Government’s national alcohol and drug strategy “Rights, Respect, and Recovery” which sets out a number of measures designed to reduce harm, and death.

Professor Catriona Matheson is a Professor at the University of Stirling, an independent research consultant and a Trustee of the Society for the Study of Addiction. She is also Convenor of the Drugs Research Network Scotland (DRNS), based at the University of Stirling. Her research interests are in the delivery of care to people who use drugs through generalist as well as specialist providers. Past research includes exploring new services in primary care (e.g. naloxone distribution) and exploring health professional and the general public’s opinions about drug treatment strategies. Current work includes innovative community pharmacy services, managing ageing and multi-morbidity in people who use drugs and dependence on prescribed and non-prescription analgesics.

The Terms of Reference are now available on the Scottish Government website and the Public Health Minister and the Chair are working to finalise the membership.

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