Digital inclusion and technologies to reduce drug-related deaths in Scotland

A blogpost by Joe Schofield, Research Fellow, University of Stirling. 

The Drugs Research Network Scotland (DRNS) warmly welcomes today’s announcement of substantial new Scottish Government funding to address digital exclusion among people at high risk of drug related harm. As harm reduction, treatment and recovery services have increasingly moved online in response to the COVID-19 lockdown, there are significant opportunities to improve people’s health and wellbeing by linking them in with drug-related and other services to meet their needs. There are further opportunities to explore the role of digital technologies in preventing and responding to overdoses and drug-related deaths. 

Over recent years the DRNS has proudly supported the development of this national programme of work and is leading on several component activities: 

In 2019 Aberdeen City Alcohol and Drug Partnership commissioned a scoping review of available and emerging technologies and their potential utility to help address drug-related deaths in Scotland. DRNS convened a meeting of stakeholders to review and discuss the results. This scoping work identified several technological solutions developed internationally, and in Scotland, that could help reduce drug-related deaths and are worthy of further exploration and testing in the Scottish context. The group agreed DRNS should establish and support a group to progress this work. In response DRNS established a collaborative Digital Inclusion for Drug-Related Death Prevention Group, with representation from clinicians, academics, independent researchers, the Digital Health & Care Institute, TEC Programme, Third Sector service providers, NHS Scotland, Police Scotland, and people with lived experience of problem drug use. Over 2019-20 partners agreed a series of priorities for the procurement / development, testing, evaluation and roll-out of technological drug-death prevention solutions. The Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre have a helpful blog post about this work.  

In October 2020 DRNS secured funding from the Scottish Government’s Technology Enabled Care programme to deliver on these priorities through the Overdose detection and responder alert technologies: transforming preventative care for those most at risk of drug-related death (ODART) project. ODART is a partnership between the Universities of Stirling and St Andrews and is supported by the DRNS’ Digital Inclusion group. This project launched in February 2021 and will deliver four main workstreams: 

  1. A solution to detect onset of overdose and alert a responsible person to administer first aid and naloxone, and liaise with the Scottish Ambulance Service to request emergency care and provide information to support an optimal clinical response.
  2. An Overdose First Responder application that bystanders who witness a suspected overdose can use to alert nearby trained first responders to administer first aid and naloxone and request support from the Scottish Ambulance Service.
  3. Community provision of ‘Naloxboxes’ which are publicly accessible boxes containing naloxone, instructions for its effective administration and appropriate first aid. These are the drug overdose equivalent of community defibrillators and would be located in areas with high prevalence of opiate overdoses and/or public injecting.
  4. Further development of remote addiction consultations including: consensus among Scottish Addiction health and care providers on the most appropriate system(s), protocols for delivery of care, and engagement with wider health, care and recovery services.

DRNS and our partners are actively exploring how digital exclusion contributes to barriers facing people who use drugs and those in recovery. Accessing office-based services can be challenging for people in remote and rural areas, those who are homeless or insecurely housed, those with children and other care responsibilities, and people with some physical or mental health conditions. Accessing online services might not be possible for those without housing or who don’t possess the required technology and data links.

We look forward to working with Scottish Government and existing partners, and forging new relationships across the country and beyond to support the development of the digital inclusion agenda and to help develop, test, evaluate and roll-out technologies that can reduce drug-related deaths and improve the quality of life for people who use(d) drugs in Scotland.

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