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5 July 2019, 07:32
The chairwoman of a new task force to tackle the rising number of drug deaths in Scotland has been announced.
Professor Catriona Matheson, of the University of Stirling, who is a trustee of the Society for the Study of Addiction and convener of the Drugs Research Network Scotland, will take up the role.
The creation of the Drug Death Taskforce was announced in March by Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick, who said "radical steps" are needed to address the "emergency".
There were 934 drug-related deaths registered in 2017, up 66 (8%) on the previous year, and it is feared the 2018 figure may be higher.
It was the highest level since current records began in 1996 and more than double the 445 deaths in 2007.
The task force will examine the main causes of drug deaths, promote action to improve the health of people who use drugs and advise on further changes in practice, or in the law, which could help save lives.
It will collate good practice about what has worked elsewhere and examine the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
The review will specifically consider what impact the Act has on proposals to provide public health harm reduction services, such as medically supervised drug consumption rooms, the Scottish Government said.
Prof Matheson said: "I am honoured to accept this responsibility to deliver real change through a strengthened public health approach.
"I am keen to examine the evidence and work across the landscape, involving those with lived experience of drug use and their families.
"We need to be bold in our thinking and our actions to reverse the trend, recognising that behind the statistics is personal tragedy."
Mr FitzPatrick said: "I am very pleased that Professor Catriona Matheson has agreed to head up this task force.
"She has a great deal of experience in this area, both through her role as trustee of the Society for the Study of Addiction and as convener of the Drugs Research Network Scotland.
"What Scotland faces in terms of drugs deaths is an emergency. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy and tackling this issue is a public health priority.
"I want to ensure that the work of the task force is driven by a strong evidence base and it is my desire to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience of using drugs, and their families, are heard.
"I will give consideration to any proposals that may help to tackle this issue."
Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC welcomed the formation of the task force.
He said: "The justice, health and social care systems all contribute to reducing harm arising from illegal drug use.
"Scotland's public prosecutors, acting independently in the public interest, deploy a range of measures in response to those who cause harm to themselves and others through the use of drugs.
"I welcome the formation of the Drug Death Taskforce and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will join the task force to support its work."
Dr Donna Mullen, consultant psychiatrist in addictions at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: "We have an ageing population of people with complex mental and physical health issues using drugs.
"The first priority of this task force should be to improve engagement into treatment.
"The second should be to ensure services meet the complex needs identified.
"This appointment is welcomed and we hope to join Professor Matheson's task force to support it."