Research themes

The DRNS’ work is organised according to four themes and a variety of cross-cutting issues.


There is a need to generate and review evidence on the factors that mean people are less likely to develop problematic drug use. The DRNS will support work to generate knowledge on the most effective and appropriate approaches to reducing the vulnerabilities of Scotland’s most at-risk populations. The desired outcome is a reduction in the prevalence of problem drug use.

Associated research activities will investigate the links between socio-economic disadvantage, deprivation and health inequities, and the progression to problem drug use. Our work will also develop understanding of the impacts of prevention techniques within and outwith the school environment.


Reducing drug-related harms is a national priority for Scotland. Research under the Harms theme will consider the broad range of health, social, and structural harms which arise from, or contribute to, drug use problems. Our aim is to reach an in-depth, evidence-based and policy relevant understanding of drug-related harms at the individual, family, community and national level.

DRNS will support the continued development of existing programmes of research in this field to further develop the evidence-base on drug-related harms.  Current priority issues for investigation include:

  • Understanding the multi-dimensional factors that contribute to fatal overdoses and other drug-related deaths at both an aggregate and individual level;
  • Understanding the ‘Scottish dimension’ with regard to the national and local risk environments that contribute to high levels of: drug use problems; blood borne viruses and other drug-related infections and health complications; and, drug-related deaths;
  • Understanding harm differentiation – the differential effect of drug-related harms experienced by population sub-groups (such as those related to gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and the intersectionality between these issues); people with mental and/or physical health problems; and people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.


Research-related activities in this theme will primarily focus on improving the health and wellbeing of children and families affected by problem drug use, including those affected by inter-related issues such as poverty, stigma, domestic abuse and mental health problems.

The DRNS will support the development of research projects to better understand and assess the nature and extent of the problem, and will focus on developing the evidence base on effective family-focused interventions. This will include, for example, evaluations of policy initiatives, models of care and interventions which aim to support affected family members in their own right, as well as their involvement in the treatment and care of their loved ones.

Research supported by the DRNS will also focus on other family issues such as those associated with routes into, and out of, problem drug use, drug treatment, and the criminal justice system; parenting and child welfare interventions; issues relating to the removal of children from their birth parents; and the inter-generational transmission of harm.

Health, Social Care and Well-being

There remain many unanswered questions in the Scottish context relating to sustained recovery from problem drug use, the role of treatment and other forms of community and social care interventions and engagement. Informed by those with experience of drug use, we will promote a focus on researching and evidencing innovative models of care and support for people who experience problem drug use. Our goal in this theme is to examine and test how people receive support and treatment, and to understand the social and cultural factors that enable people who use drugs to achieve better health and social well-being.

The DRNS will support the development of research projects including those that will:

  • evaluate impact and short and long term outcomes of drug treatment and recovery;
  • strengthen the evidence base for effective treatment and recovery and test innovative models of care;
  • provide better understanding of the lived experience of treatment and recovery for people who have experience of problem drug use to inform future service provision;
  • provide better understanding of the complexities of the health and social wellbeing for people who experience problem drug use in the Scottish context and the structural and social inequalities that may impact on this;
  • understand the lived experience and impact of stigma for people who experience problem drug use.

Cross-cutting issues

A number of issues identified in the national research framework [insert link], and by stakeholders, relate to more than one theme.  These include:

  • research to better understand the unique Scottish dimensions of problem drug use and associated challenges, especially the associations between problem drug use, an individual’s recovery journey, deprivation and inequality;
  • a clearer understanding of what the positive, and potential negative, impacts of specific interventions/services are, and what factors/context may influence their effectiveness, including cost effectiveness, that can support assessment of what works, or not, and why;
  • research to address the impact of both problem drug use and treatment processes on different subgroups of society and in different settings;
  • research into trauma in early or later life – the impact this has on an individual’s development of problem drug use and broader life choices;
  • the needs of older drug users – the health and treatment issues associated with this group;
  • the visible evidence of recovery (both individuals and community) and the impact this can have on prevention and resilience;
  • why some individuals drop out of treatment and how services can adapt to better meets the needs of these people? Also, what are the needs of those who are not currently engaged with services?