What is RADAR?

Rapid Action Drug Alerts and Response (RADAR) is Scotland’s drugs early warning system.

Using innovative data collection methods, RADAR validates, assesses and shares information to reduce the risk of drug-related harm by:

  • identifying new and emerging harms
  • recommending rapid and targeted interventions
  • publishing accessible, up-to-date information on services, harms and emerging drug trends, including our quarterly report.

Find out more about the reporting form and how to get involved. 

Who is involved?

Public Health Scotland (PHS) coordinates the national programme.

We use a partnership approach to support local services, community members and public health teams, to ensure the system is relevant and meets the needs of the people and places it serves.

RADAR involves people and services from across the country and it is made up of three multi-agency groups:

  • The Development Group: formed of communication, data and intervention subgroups that support system design and development, including the creation of a communication and response toolkit.
  • The Network: a wide and inclusive group that collects and shares drug trends and data, helps to validate information and processes outputs and communications.
  • The Assessment Group: a specialist technical team that studies data, assesses potential threats and decides on action to reduce harm.

Optimising public health surveillance is a priority of the Drug Deaths Taskforce and is defined in the Scottish Government’s National Drugs Mission.


PHS have been working in collaboration with partners across the sector to establish RADAR and ensure it meets the needs of services and people in Scotland.

We are grateful for the development and assessment contributions from a range of key partners.

  • Aberdeen in Recovery
  • Crew 2000
  • Fife Alcohol and Drug Partnership
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Health Improvement Scotland
  • Highland Alcohol and Drug Partnership
  • Improvement Service
  • Inverclyde Alcohol and Drug Partnership
  • Moray Alcohol and Drug Partnership
  • NHS Ayrshire and Arran
  • NHS Borders
  • NHS Education for Scotland
  • NHS Fife
  • NHS Grampian
  • NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • NHS Highland
  • NHS Lanarkshire
  • NHS Lothian
  • NHS Tayside
  • Patchwork Recovery Community
  • Police Scotland
  • REACH Advocacy Scotland
  • Scottish Ambulance Service
  • Scottish Borders Housing Association
  • Scottish Drugs Forum
  • Scottish Government
  • Scottish Prison Service
  • Scottish Recovery Consortium
  • South Lanarkshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership
  • University of Dundee
  • University of Glasgow
  • We Are With You


Why is RADAR needed?

Drug-related harms in Scotland are at record levels.

Drug deaths in Scotland are the highest in Europe and are several times the rate in England and Wales.

The reasons for these high numbers are complex and include a number of factors such as:

  • an evolving drug supply
  • the use of multiple drugs at the same time
  • changes to treatment services

Drug harms are also closely linked to social and health inequalities.

People living in more deprived areas in Scotland are significantly more likely to experience drug-related harms and deaths than those living in less deprived areas.

To respond to this public health emergency, RADAR provides a structured way to collect, assess and communicate information about drugs.

This identifies risks quickly and informs rapid action to reduce harm and save lives.

RADAR aims to reduce the short, medium and long-term harms associated with drugs in the Scottish population by:

  • identifying trends, risks and clusters of overdose and intoxication
  • responding to new and emerging substances, changing harms and other relevant scenarios
  • advising on and implementing immediate harm prevention and control measures
  • providing high-quality current public health information
  • informing decision-making about resource allocation, prevention and service design and delivery

How does RADAR work?

RADAR collects and shares essential information on drug trends and harms by using a consistent process to monitor, assess and respond.

1. Monitoring

We actively encourage services and local communities to share information such as drug related incidents or harms by using:

  • RADAR reporting forms
  • regular monitoring surveys
  • the RADAR mailbox

RADAR routinely receives data from healthcare, prison, police and toxicology services. Where possible, statistical indicators are added to datasets to signal significant changes and quickly highlight threats to the system.

2. Validation

To understand the accuracy and importance of the information received, we check:

  • context
  • source
  • other reports (including from the Network)

If information cannot be validated, we will continue to monitor and may investigate further through targeted requests or enhanced surveys.

3. Assessment

If validated, a report is sent to the Assessment Group who consider the level of potential risk and decide on:

  • threat level
  • action needed
  • type of response

4. Communication

The action and response agreed by the Assessment Group is shared widely, including to the Network who share the information with their contacts. Communications may take the form of:

  • warnings or alerts
  • information summaries
  • risk assessments
  • reports

The impact of these communications will be regularly evaluated for effectiveness.

How can I get involved?

Do you have a keen interest in reducing drug-related harm?

Would you like to share and receive information from RADAR?

We have produced a network guide which explains terms of reference for the RADAR Network. View the network guide.

A flyer is also available about the RADAR network.

For enquiries about other groups (Development Group and Assessment Group) please email the Programme Team at: phs.drugsradar@phs.scot

How can I send information?

You can use our reporting form if you would like to share information about:

  • trends
  • new drugs
  • incidents
  • health harms related to drugs
  • social harms related to drugs

This form contains questions on:

  • drug use
  • adverse effects
  • overdose
  • drug deaths

This form should not be used in an emergency.

If someone is experiencing an overdose or a medical emergency where drugs may be involved, call 999.

Reports to RADAR can be made as soon as practicably possible.

Hard copies of the reporting form are available to print.

These can be scanned and returned to the RADAR mailbox.

The mailbox is monitored by the Public Health Scotland RADAR programme team Monday to Friday.

Email phs.drugsradar@phs.scot

What type of information can I share?

RADAR collects information about trends, new drugs, incidents, health harms and social harms related to drugs.

This may include details such as:

  • adverse effects
  • drug appearance
  • patterns of use
  • routes of administration
  • testing data

By providing as much information as possible you help us to develop a better response.

But you do not need to have all the information requested on the form to make a submission.

If you have incomplete information or if you are unsure if the report you have is useful, please submit the form anyway. 

All information received helps us to develop a much-needed picture of drug use and harms in Scotland.

Please do not include any unrequested personal information such as a name, private address, date of birth or Community Health Index (CHI) number.

How will RADAR use my data?

Our reporting forms inform our public health response to drug harms.

Anonymised submissions may be shared with services and the public.

We will not share information for enforcement purposes, unless we have a legal obligation to do so.

We collect the minimum amount of personal information needed to identify the rough location of an incident (postcode sector, town or workplace) and contact the person who submitted the form by email should we need more information.

The submission of this information is optional.

This information is collected and stored in accordance with Public Health Scotland’s published privacy notice.   

We have also produced a privacy policy for RADAR.

For further information, email phs.drugsradar@phs.scot

For information on drugs and drug use, visit NHS inform (external website).

RADAR quarterly reports

The Drugs Team at Public Health Scotland (PHS) compiles reports of drug-related indicators in order to inform action to prevent drug harms and deaths.

A quarterly report is available.

RADAR alerts

RADAR publishes ad-hoc alerts related to new trends, drugs and harms.

Alert 2023/04: Nitazenes was published on 24 January 2023 and updated on 29 March 2023.

Alert 2023/13 was published on 5 July 2023, due to an increase in harms related to the use of new benzodiazepines such as bromazolam.

Further information

Information leaflet

A leaflet about RADAR is available to download and print.

Drugs A to Z guide to common drug names in Scotland

A resource for emergency service call handlers to appropriately identify, categorise and coordinate the response to emergency call outs involving drugs.

It includes key street names of common drugs as well as brief descriptions of drug types and categories.

Last updated: 08 August 2023
Was this page helpful?