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Researchers win funding for vital research to tackle Scotland's drugs death crisis

4 August 2020 

Addictions experts, including researchers from the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol, have been awarded more than £170,000 in Scottish Government funding to lead life-saving research to help tackle the country's drugs death challenge. 

Needle and drugs

Two research projects, which will be conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) in collaboration with the University of Bristol, the University of Stirling and the Scottish Drugs Forum, are part of the Scottish Government’s Drug Deaths Taskforce’s first allocation of research funds bids to successful bids totalling almost £800,000.

Professor Catriona Matheson, Chair of the Taskforce, said: “These research programmes will further enable the Taskforce in its mission to get evidence into action and save lives.”

GCU Pro Vice Chancellor Research Professor Cam Donaldson said their work is “testament to the vital public health research taking place here at Glasgow Caledonian in the fields of substance use and blood borne diseases”. 

“In working with particularly vulnerable members of society, this world-class group is making a substantial contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 3 on Health and Wellbeing and, thus, to our developing research strategy,” he added.

Dr Andrew McAuley, a Senior Research Fellow, and researcher Dr Matt Smith, from the School of Health and Life Sciences and Centre for Living, are both Principal Investigators in the latest studies evaluating the impact of public health interventions in Scotland's drug-related death epidemic.

Dr McAuley has been awarded £99,997 from the government’s Drug Death Taskforce for an 18-month project evaluating the effectiveness of specific interventions such as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and Take-Home Naloxone (THN) in preventing drug-related deaths. The study will be conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Bristol, led by Professor Matthew Hickman, and Scottish Drugs Forum. 

Naloxone is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose and Medication-Assisted Treatment is the use of medications in combination with counselling and behavioural therapies.

Dr McAuley said “We’re delighted to receive this funding from the Drug Death Task Force. Scotland’s unacceptably high drug-related death rate is a crisis that has persisted despite availability of some of the key evidence-based interventions designed to prevent such events occurring in the first place. 

“In this research, we aim to determine to what extent Medication-Assisted Treatment and Take-Home Naloxone are protective against drug-related deaths. Our findings will be of critical importance to policymakers and practitioners responsible for designing and delivering these services, and to people who use drugs and their families to ensure such services are informed by the best available evidence”.

Matthew Hickman, Professor in Public Health and Epidemiology and co-Director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at the University of Bristol, said: “We are delighted to support colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian University on this critical study which will create a nationally important linked data set on opioid related deaths which is essential for evaluating what extra interventions are required to reduce opioid drug related deaths in the population.”

Dr Smith’s will receive £70,754 in funding for a 12-month study, also from the Drug Death Taskforce, focusing on understanding the impact of the Naloxone Peer Training and Supply Programme (NPTSP). The NPTSP trains former and current substance users (peers) to distribute naloxone kits and teach people how to use them within their communities, to users, their families, and anyone affected by overdose. The study will be conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Stirling and Scottish Drugs Forum. 

He said: “We’re very excited to have been awarded funding by the Drug Deaths Taskforce to carry out this evaluation of the Naloxone Peer Training and Supply Programme (NPTSP) in Glasgow. We will use lessons learnt from the NPTSP to help scale up peer-to-peer naloxone distribution across Scotland, which could potentially have a profound impact on the prevention of drug related deaths.”


Further information 

About the NIHR 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy.

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.