1. Foreword by Minister for Drugs and Alcohol
I was appointed Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy in April this year, following the period this annual report covers. Since then I have visited many recovery and treatment services, as well as meeting with people and communities affected by drugs. While I was told in no uncertain terms how much remained to be done, I was immediately struck by the stories I heard of transformational change that had already taken place as a result of the National Mission, whether through the work being done to implement MAT standards, through improvements being made for accessing residential services or through increased investment in grass-roots organisations.
In 2022, there were 1,051 drug misuse deaths registered in Scotland. This was a decrease of 21% (279 deaths) compared with 2021. This is the lowest number of drug misuse deaths since 2017. The change between 2021 and 2022 is the largest year on year decrease on record. I believe the tireless work of people across Scotland will have contributed to that reduction and I would like to thank everyone involved for their ongoing commitment to continue that work. There is still a lot of work to be done. This was just one year, and we know that the numbers are still too high. The suspected drug death figures for the first six months of 2023 demonstrate that the reduction in deaths in 2022 cannot yet be seen as the start of a downward trend. These avoidable deaths are tragedies, and we need to do even more to stay on course to reduce harms and improve lives.
While not within the period covered by this report, it is important to note we are closer now to the setting up of Scotland’s first safer consumption facility in Glasgow. In September 2023, the Lord Advocate publicly indicated that, based on the detailed proposals for a facility in Glasgow, she would be willing to issue a statement of prosecution policy to set out that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute someone who is in possession of illicit drugs in the facility.
We are now approaching the halfway mark of the five-year Mission on Drugs to reduce deaths and improve lives by reducing harm, promoting recovery, and ensuring that access is available to the right form of treatment and recovery at the right time and for as long as it is required all across Scotland. We now have our second Annual Report on Mission progress.
In comparing the reports from the first and second years of the Mission, we see that in the first year the focus was on setting up the emergency measures we could put in place quickly to reduce harm, while in the second year there has been a shift in the Mission towards sustainable implementation and delivery of some key programmes as well as the development and introduction of some more holistic programmes that we hope will be equally as impactful going forward.
For example, we have seen significant progress towards fully implementing the MAT standards and a greater uptake in residential service placements as well as a significant increase in the availability of naloxone; perhaps most significant was the work being done by Police Scotland in training its officers to carry and use kits.
As well as maintaining core funding for local services in a challenging financial environment, we ran successful rounds of funding for both Drugs Mission Funds administered by Corra and Residential Rehab Rapid Capacity programme in late 2022, ensuring multi-year funding is available to services of all sizes and scale across Scotland.
One of the key milestones in the report period was the publication of the Drug Deaths Taskforce final report, Changing Lives. That was produced as the result of several years work with key stakeholders and provides a range of decision makers including Government with evidence-based recommendations and suggested actions aimed at improving outcomes for people across the country.
In response, we published our Cross-government action plan and Stigma action plan in January 2023 which seeks to ensure a collaborative approach across Scottish Government to reducing drug-related deaths and improving lives, and also tackling stigma and discrimination, which as we know can so often present a barrier to our most vulnerable seeking the care and support they need.
The Changing Lives report and the action plans we are now taking forward in response will set us up for the third year of the Mission. In this year, Public Health Scotland will begin evaluating the National Mission to better understand its impact. We will continue to invest in the lifesaving, emergency response initiatives and continue to support grass-roots projects, and increase focus on a whole-government approach to addressing the holistic needs of people with drug problems with work spanning mental health, homelessness, justice as well as children and families.
I look forward to working with all our key partners across Scotland to continue on all of this work as well as seeing how it reads across to the complementary work being done on the other half of my own portfolio, which covers alcohol policy. Although the National Mission is targeted at reducing deaths and improving lives impacted by drugs, I note the benefits the improvements being made have already had on people impacted by alcohol. It will be important to make further links across my portfolio and others, to ensure person-centred support has no wrong door.
Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy
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