Drug related deaths in Scotland are a public health emergency. An emergency that requires a community response.

In many of our poorest communities the public health challenges of drug use and drug related deaths are horrific. One thing is clear: people who use drugs, their friends and their families urgently need more care and support.

The Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) was established in 1986 and works to lead and represent the drugs field in Scotland, working to improve Scotland’s response to drug use. SDF has supported the expansion of Scotland’s world-leading take home Naloxone programme, which was established in 2011. This programme aims to widen access to take home Naloxone – a lifesaving first aid intervention allowing anybody to respond to an opioid overdose.

Whilst the data from National Records of Scotland on drug related deaths reports a decrease in the individuals who lost their lives, we are nowhere near solving this crisis. In 2022, 1,051 people tragically died, many from our poorest communities. People in the most deprived communities face a risk of drug related death 16 times higher than those in the most affluent areas.

We have seen that opioids, usually alongside other depressant drugs, still cause the vast majority of overdose deaths. Almost 90% of people who tragically died were over the age of 35, often with poor physical and mental health. We know that many people will have near-fatal overdoses prior to their deaths, increasing their future risk. These near-fatal overdoses in Scotland number in their thousands annually.

Naloxone is a medication that temporarily reverses opioid overdose allowing time for emergency services to respond. It can be used by anyone to save a life.

The Scottish Naloxone Programme has worked across Scotland with multiple partners including emergency, statutory and third sector services to widen access and availability of this lifesaving first aid intervention. Working with partner organisations, SDF has established and embedded nine peer groups across Scotland who are providing training and supply in communities. We provide face to face and e-learning on naloxone that is free to anyone.

SDF has worked in partnership with ALLIANCE’s Community Links Practitioners (CLPs), training them to supply life-saving Naloxone to anyone likely to witness an overdose; including people who use drugs, their friends, family members and carers. This joint-working approach has widened the availability of Naloxone, increased the number of people willing to intervene in an emergency overdose situation and helped to bring this harm reduction intervention into the very heart of communities.

The ALLIANCE CLPs provide a short individual training session, enabling them to supply patients with a Naloxone kit. This also facilitates space for conversation on what supports may be available in the local area. Embedded in GP practices in some of our most deprived communities, the CLPs are well placed to signpost nearby services, projects and facilities that may be able to help. This community approach is important to reduce isolation and allows patients to access services for the issues they are facing locally.

Finding out about how to intervene in an opioid overdose is so much more than learning how to administer a medication. It increases knowledge which can be hugely empowering and reduces the feelings of hopelessness and isolation that many patients and their families can feel. It can also help to reduce stigma around drugs and drug use which can stop people from accessing essential services. More people carrying naloxone shows that they care enough to save a life.

The ALLIANCE Community Links Programme is a valuable partner in the Scottish Naloxone programme and their intervention can be lifesaving.

For further information on Naloxone or training please contact:
Mariebeth Kilbride: mariebethk@sdf.org.uk
Senior Officer for Drug Death Prevention, Scottish Drugs Forum

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