Drug Deaths Taskforce response: cross government approach

Cross government response to the Drug Deaths Taskforce report, Changing Lives. It contains a cross government action plan, response to Taskforce recommendations and a stigma action plan.

1. Introduction

In 2021, 1,330 people in Scotland lost their lives to drugs[1]. Each death is a tragedy and there can be no doubt that our drug death crisis is a public health emergency.

In January 2021 the Scottish Government announced[2] a National Mission on Drugs. The aim of the National Mission is to reduce drug deaths and improve the lives of those impacted by drugs. The National Mission plan, published on 9th August 2022[3], sets out how we plan to deliver the National Mission over the duration of this parliament.

Scotland is taking a public health approach to this public health emergency[4]. Our vision continues to be that Scotland is a country where "we live long, healthy and active lives regardless of where we come from"[5] and where individuals, families and communities:

  • have the right to health and life – free from the harms of alcohol and drugs;
  • are treated with dignity and respect;
  • are fully supported within communities to find their own type of recovery.

1.1 Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce

The Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce (the Taskforce) was established by the Scottish Government in July 2019. It was tasked with examining the key drivers of drug deaths and exploring ways to help to save lives and reduce harm. Following the launch of the National Mission in 2021, the Taskforce's role changed from commissioning projects and tests of change to providing evidence based advice to Government. The Scottish Government received regular advice and recommendations from the Taskforce throughout its existence.

In July 2022, the Taskforce published its final report, Changing Lives[6], representing the culmination of three years' work. While the report presented significant challenge and reflected the difficulties that must be overcome, the Taskforce also had a clear message of hope: change is possible.

1.2 National Mission Framework

The National Mission Outcomes Framework[7] was published in August 2022. It expresses our aim to reduce drug deaths and improve the lives of those impacted by drugs and sets out the underpinning outcomes and cross-cutting priorities we believe are necessary to achieve this aim.

National Mission outcomes framework
six outcomes shown in a clockwise, circular format and the cross cutting priorities shown in a table.

In November 2022, we published our first annual report[8] on the National Mission setting out the progress made between January 2021 and 31 March 2022 towards reducing drug deaths and improving the lives of those impacted by drugs in Scotland.

1.3 Response to the Taskforce

The Taskforce's final recommendation asked for a plan on how the Scottish Government will implement the recommendations in its report within six months. In recognition of the wide ranging challenge the Taskforce outlined, the 2022-23 Programme for Government[9] included a commitment to publish a Cross Government Action Plan on drugs.

The Taskforce was also clear in its final report that a systemic, cultural change was necessary to truly transform the drug death emergency in Scotland. Such a change would help ensure that people who use drugs are able to access the services they need and are entitled to. Alongside reducing the stigma people who use drugs and their families face, the Taskforce had clear messages on the need for joined up action across government and on tackling poverty as the underlying cause of problematic drug use.

We are committed to pursuing the system changes that are needed, across government and beyond. Section One of this response outlines the first stages of the process through a Cross Government Action Plan.

The actions outlined in the plan have a focus on work that is already, or will shortly be, implemented and is having an impact. We will continue our ambition to explore other routes across government to support people who use drugs. The message from the Taskforce[10] and others has been clear, we know what the issues are, and we know what needs to change. Here we set out initial actions to make those changes happen.

Given the range of actions outlined, oversight and accountability of delivery will play a crucial role in ensuring implementation. Within the Scottish Government, responsibility lies with the Minister for Drugs Policy who reports directly to the First Minister. Existing internal Scottish Government groups will provide oversight and accountability at both a Ministerial and Official level.

The National Drugs Mission Oversight Group, chaired by David Strang, former chair of the Drug Deaths Taskforce, was established in June 2022 to provide challenge, scrutiny and advice to the Scottish Government and the wider sector. This will include the delivery of the actions outlined in this plan.

In order to ensure that reporting is consistent, it is important that there is continuity with the National Mission. Therefore, we will ensure that we include work on the actions outlined here in the National Mission's reporting mechanisms. In the interim, we intend to report to Parliament on progress six months after publication.

This response to the Taskforce is in three sections:

  • Section One – the Cross Government Action Plan, covers the Taskforce recommendations that require joined up working and input from across government.
  • Section Two – outlines our response to the Taskforce recommendations.
  • Section Three – contains the Stigma Action Plan as called for by the Taskforce (recommendation 10).

Annex A contains a detailed response to each of the 139 actions outlined in the Taskforce Changing Lives report and has been published separately.


Email: Drugsmissiondeliveryteam@gov.scot

Back to top