Drug users will be guaranteed same-day support under new Scottish Government proposals aimed at tackling the country’s drug deaths shame.
Scotland has the highest rate of drug-induced death in Europe, with Dundee having the greatest rate of drug death in the country.
Latest figures show 72 people perished from illicit substance misuse in 2019 — a rate of 482 per million of the population.
Angela Constance was appointed the government’s drug policy minister after her Dundee predecessor Joe FitzPatrick — who represents Dundee City West for the SNP — stepped down following a continuing increase in deaths under his watch as minister for public health.
When a drug user makes the decision to seek help then help must be available that day. That is the moment when change can happen and it should not be missed.”
Michael Marra MSP
Authorities in Dundee ordered their own commission into drugs deaths two years ago, which recommended an overhaul of services for users in the city.
Included in that was the proposal to guarantee those who sought help with their addiction were seen on the same day.
The Scottish Government announced on Monday “10 standards”, published by its drug deaths taskforce, which promises to “ensure everyone has access to support which works best for them”.
An announcement of £50 million made earlier this year will fund Scotland’s Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to make sure all steps are in place by April 2022.
The Scottish Government said its 10 standards will apply to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) — the use of medication, such as opioids, together with any psychological and social support, in the treatment and care of people.
Steps will require “urgent resource”
Dundee city councillor and North East Scotland Labour MSP Michael Marra said: “Two years ago the Dundee Drugs Commission said that same day prescribing should be put in place across the city.
“This was already available in many parts of Scotland and progress locally has been slow.
“The value of these welcome new standards will be when they are implemented.
“We need a date that all of Scotland is working towards when we can expect these standards to be fully in place. All ADPs and health boards should be reporting on progress.
“The recognition that mental health and addiction can and must be treated simultaneously should be a step change for Dundee.
“This will require urgent resources. One of the key limiting factors has been the lack of consultant psychiatrists.
“We need finance and a training regime to both recruit and develop the necessary clinicians.
“When a drug user makes the decision to seek help then help must be available that day. That is the moment when change can happen and it should not be missed.”
Scottish Labour’s newly appointed drug policy spokesperson, Claire Baker, said: “The publication of the MAT standards is an important and welcome step in responding to problem drug use, using a rights-based approach.
“We now need to ensure implementation is fully resourced and work to embed the standards as early as possible across Scotland.
“These standards will be a key part of making treatment services person-centred and allowing people to make an informed choice about what help they need.
“We must also make sure that support services are in place so people are able to reach the point where they can access treatment.”
Safe standards set
Minister for Drug Policy Angela Constance said: “I want to thank the Drug Deaths Taskforce for their work on developing these standards and all those who gave their views following the interim report.
“We now have a set of standards which are safe, accessible and person-centred. These will help ensure consistency of treatment across the country. Making help available and giving people an informed choice is an essential part of respecting a person’s rights and dignity. It is also an approach which is more likely to be effective and provide people with the support and treatment they need.
“We have said a national mission is needed to tackle the drug deaths emergency and that is why we allocated an additional £250 million over the next five years to improve and increase services for people affected by drug addiction.
“These MAT standards will mean everyone with problematic drug use can access the right support for them regardless of their situation or location.”
Chair of the Drug Deaths Taskforce Professor Catriona Matheson said: “The publication of the MAT Standards and the start of their implementation represents a major achievement for the taskforce and the beginning of a new phase of our work.
“The standards constitute the most significant intervention in the strategy to reduce the unacceptable level of drug related deaths. The standards will form a critical element of the longer term, sustainable actions that will save lives, complimenting the emergency actions taken to date.
“The evidence is clear that using street drugs and not being in treatment is dangerous and life-threatening. The Taskforce wants more people at risk to be in treatment programmes. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the rapid development of the Standards and who are now involved in their roll-out and adoption. Commitment like this will help save lives.”
Scottish Drugs Forum CEO David Liddell said: “Scotland’s MAT Standards are the most significant landmark in improving Scotland’s response to problem drug use in over a decade. Implementing the standards will be the most significant development in addressing the on-going public health emergency of drug-related deaths.
“People who enter treatment are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society and often find engaging with services difficult.
“Services need to be more attractive, more approachable and more accessible; and reach out to people who have been in treatment but no longer are. These standards are the basis for making services truly person-centred. Implementing them will help services develop empowering relationships with people in treatment. Full implementation of the standards will save lives, reduce harm and transform people’s quality of life.”