Taskforce to tackle drug deaths emergency

£20m to support expert group to reduce drug harms.

The first meeting of the new Taskforce set up to address drug deaths in Scotland will take place on 17 September 2019.

The group, chaired by Professor Catriona Matheson of the University of Stirling, has 23 members with a broad range of expertise and experience in this field.

The Taskforce will examine the main causes of drug deaths, will 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.

The expert group will also consider the impact of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 on taking a public health approach to this emergency, including proposals to provide harm reduction services, such as medically supervised overdose prevention rooms.

The first meeting follows a commitment made in the Programme for Government 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 which use evidence-based approaches to tackle 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.

“Building on increases in funding in recent years we’re investing a further £20 million over the next two years to help deliver the proposals that come forward.

“We will also host a drug summit in Glasgow to further explore this issue, ensuring that the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are also heard. I’ve repeatedly invited the UK Government to attend this summit – I hope they will soon commit to doing so.

“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.”

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.

“I am extremely heartened we have pulled together a strong team who have given their full commitment to the aims of the Taskforce.”


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 outlines a number of measures designed to reduce harm, and death.

Full membership of taskforce


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