New treatment standards for services and organisations that support people with a drug problem in Scotland have been published today.

To save lives and directly impact on the current drug-related death crisis, the Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Standards for Scotland aim to enable the consistent delivery of safe, accessible and high-quality drug treatment and support across the country. This is published by the Scottish Government on behalf of the Drugs Death Taskforce and in collaboration with Public Health Scotland (PHS).

The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland increased by 6%, from 1,187 in 2018 to 1,264 in 2019, representing the highest number since records began in 1996, for the sixth consecutive year in a row. Of the deaths, 86% had one or more opioids implicated.

The MAT standards are informed by the evidence that engagement with treatment is a protective factor against drug-related harms, including death, for people who use opioids. They have been developed in collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders, including people with lived and living experience, family members, clinical directors, addiction psychiatrists, advocacy specialists, and lead addiction psychologists, as well as service providers and planners across local authorities, the NHS and the third sector.

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) refers to the use of medication, such as substitute opioids like methadone, together with any psychological and social support in the treatment and care of people who experience problems with their drug use.

The standards provide a framework to ensure that the provision of MAT is safe, effective, acceptable, accessible and person-centred to enable people to benefit from treatment for as long as they need it.  A culture of improvement and collaboration between partners is essential for successful implementation. National programme support has been established to support senior leaders and practitioners to scale up our treatment response for people experiencing problems with their drug use. 

The standards aim to improve access and retention in treatment, enable people to make informed choices about their care, and strengthen accountability and leadership so that the necessary governance and resources are in place to implement them effectively.

Discussing the urgent need for the standards, Dr Duncan McCormick, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at Public Health Scotland and Chair of the MAT Subgroup of the Scottish Drugs Deaths Taskforce, said:

“Drug-related deaths and harms are preventable, and we know that being safely prescribed substitution treatment can safeguard against serious harm including death.

“As a result, the new MAT standards can be viewed truly as a ‘game-changer’ in Scotland’s approach to the accessibility of treatment. It is now crucial that together we, the collective health and social care workforce, contribute towards their implementation.

“The effective implementation of these standards across Scotland, supported by sustained funding, workforce development and system change, is what will really make a difference to people’s lives and reduce drug-related harm. The continued leadership and participation of people with experience of problematic drug use is also crucial to this scaling up phase, and the experiences of those that use services will be a key measure of success”.

The standards are in line with the vision for NHS Scotland that by 2025, anyone providing health and social care will take a realistic medicine approach. This approach puts people at the centre of decisions made about their care and how it is delivered.

Commenting on the approach of the standards and the impact they will have, Tracey Clusker, Clinical Lead for the MAT Standards in the Scottish Drugs Death Taskforce, said:

“The introduction of the new MAT standards provides a real opportunity to refocus our efforts to reduce the tragic toll of drug-related deaths across the country.

“When a person summons the courage to seek help, it is right and appropriate that they are able to discuss their options to get the help that is best suited for them on the same day.

“Through the pilot initiatives we have run in the development of the standards, I’ve seen first-hand the direct beneficial impact they can make to the lives of people and their family members. It is now our duty to make sure that everyone throughout Scotland has access to the same approach and level of support”.

A free online event that will describe the next steps towards implementation of the MAT standards will be held on Friday 11 of June 2021 at 13.00 to 14.30.

The event, hosted by Public Health Scotland, Scottish Drugs Forum and the MAT Subgroup of the Drugs Deaths Task Force and chaired by Dr Duncan McCormick of PHS, will present information on how local service planners and services can ensure Standard-compliant provision.

View the Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Standards for Scotland: Access, Choice, Support (external website).

Register for the free online event (external website).

Last updated: 06 October 2022