Drug deaths are as unacceptable as they are tragic and in recognition of this public health emergency, the First Minister in January 2021 announced a National Mission to save and improve lives by reducing harm and promoting recovery. A core element of the National Mission is to improve access and retention in treatment and in recovery, ensuring that it is right for each person. The Scottish Government committed an additional investment of £250 million funding for the mission over the lifetime of this parliament, and I was appointed as the dedicated Minister for Drugs Policy.
In the first year of the National Mission, important foundations for change have been built and this – the first annual report – sets out our year one commitments and progress from January 2021 to 31 March 2022. We intend to publish a retrospective annual report every year for the remainder of the mission.
This report demonstrates the breadth of activity which has taken place, across public and third sector organisations to improve and reform services. Progress has been made; the expansion of residential rehabilitation provision, increased funding to community and grass-roots organisations that supported over 200 projects, areas have started to embed Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Standards, the setting of a new treatment target, and the laying of ground work for innovation such as Safer Drug Consumption Facilities and Digital Lifelines.
We also launched the national naloxone campaign to raise awareness of how to respond to an overdose and provide a lifesaving intervention. This followed the hard-hitting national campaign to reduce the stigmatisation of people at risk of overdose and people who use drugs more broadly.
The report also outlines our continued commitment to put the voices of lived and living experience at the heart. The National Collaborative was established to ensure that the voices and rights of those with lived and living experience are at the centre of both policy and practice.
Our work was supported by the Drug Deaths Taskforce who explored and advised on key trends arising in Scotland, such as increased drug deaths in women and the long term increase of illicit benzodiazepines implicated in deaths.
In addition to our direct work, the aims of our mission are supported across other areas of Government – Keeping the Promise, Tackling Child Poverty and The Vision for Justice in Scotland – all have a role to play across sectors, locally and nationally.
There is still much more work to do. For the next year, 2022-2023, the Scottish Government is focussed on implementation and delivery. We will increase scrutiny and support to drive the delivery of the MAT standards and our treatment target; support the workforce through an expert delivery group and increase our efforts around prevention. The National Collaborative has begun its work to develop the Charter of Rights; placing people and their human dignity and rights at the centre of all policy and decision-making. We will continue to partner with, and support, the services provided by critical organisations in the third sector and recovery communities.
In response to the Drug Death Taskforce final report we will deliver both a cross government and stigma action plan, progressing links with colleagues in mental health, homelessness and other areas to ensure a truly holistic approach to multiple and complex needs, challenge stigma and promote a no wrong door agenda.
We continue to work towards expanding access to residential rehabilitation; aiming to increase the number of publically funded places by 300% and the number of beds by 50%, over the course of this parliament.
The next year will be challenging, with a cost of living crisis, high inflation and winter pressures. We must remain alert to all the influential factors and ensure we deliver strategically and quickly to support those most vulnerable in our communities. I am determined we can use what we have achieved in the first year of the mission as a platform for real change.
Minister for Drugs Policy
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