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Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

The Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday published the report of their comprehensive inquiry into problematic drug use in Scotland.

We welcome the committee’s call for the UK Government to adopt a public health approach to drugs policy, as well as their recommendations to review the impact of welfare sanctions and support radical, whole-system change to address the root causes of problem drug use. There is significant evidence that poverty and deprivation are the main structural drivers contributing to problematic drug use in Scotland, with drug-related harm a common symptom of wide levels of inequality.

Together with NHS Health Scotland, Health Protection Scotland and Information Services Division (both part of NHS National Services Scotland), provided written and oral evidence to the committee. The three organisations will soon join to form Public Health Scotland – whose remit will include providing national leadership around tackling the harms associated with drugs in Scotland.

Further to the research evidence we provided to the inquiry, we look forward to supporting both the UK Government and the Scottish Government to achieve the recommendations put forward in this report. We commend the committee for the detailed picture of drug use in Scotland they built up: particularly the lived experience of the causes and the range of evidence-based solutions proposed. However, to implement the scale of change so urgently needed it will also be necessary to set benchmarks for progress at both local and national level, if we are to ensure that reform is being delivered.

Elinor Dickie, Public Health Intelligence Advisor at NHS Health Scotland, said:

“In 2018 Scotland once again saw a record number of people lose their life to a drug-related death. The existing approach is not working. We would urge the Scottish and UK governments to do whatever it takes to bring about the systematic changes needed to reduce harm and save lives.

“The Scottish Affairs Committee call for clear, innovative and evidence-based action to be taken. In particular action is needed to address the factors that cause problematic drug use: like tackling poverty and reducing childhood adversity. We must also address the impact of stigma.

“If delivered, the recommendations of this report will help fully realise the potential of a joined up public health approach to drug use, bringing together aspects of policing, justice, employment, social security, housing and mental health services to support individuals in need”. 

Dr Andrew McAuley, Principal Scientist at Health Protection Scotland, said:

“Yesterday’s report recognises the impact of poverty and inequality on drug use in Scotland, but there is evidence of what we can do immediately to keep people safe. That includes proper funding for specialist drug treatment services, in order to increase access, capacity and retention, and help keep people safe.

“The changes to legislation the committee recommend – which include allowing for the lawful pilot of a safer consumption facility, through the devolution of powers if necessary – would also support the delivery of a public health approach to drug use in Scotland. Drug-related harms, and drug-related deaths, are preventable”.


To find out more about drug use and health inequalities, see the Drugs section of our website.