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Chamber and committees

Question reference: S6W-20961

  • Asked by: Willie Rennie, MSP for North East Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats
  • Date lodged: 4 September 2023
  • Current status: Answered by Elena Whitham on 14 September 2023


To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report, Synthetic Opioids: A Whole System Response to a Public Health Emergency, by the charity, Cranstoun, and what action it plans to take in response to the reported emergence of synthetic opioids in the supply of drugs in the UK.


The appearance of synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, in the Scottish drug supply has been a concern for some time. At the end of 2022 PHS flagged a small number of deaths related to nitazenes, a new synthetic opioid and issued a public health alert as a result in January 2023. Following recent deaths linked to these substances in England and Wales, the UK Government issued their own alert in June 2023. Changes in the production of heroin, particularly in areas such as Afghanistan, are also raising concerns amongst stakeholders of a likely rise in the supply of synthetic opioids and the danger this will pose to the UK drug supply.

The ability to know what is in the drug supply and when substances of concern, such as synthetic opioids appear, is vital. Recognising the need to understand changes in the substances people are taking, alongside being able to identify potential threats, has meant that through our National Mission we have invested in developing our surveillance abilities. Public Health Scotland now operate their Rapid Action Drug Alerts and Response (RADAR) system which issues quarterly reports, but they have also released two health alerts relating to specific substances to raise awareness to individuals and to enable service providers to deliver vital harm reduction services, including provision of Naloxone. The use of fentanyl testing strips is also currently under consideration. In addition, we are continuing to progress the establishment of drug checking facilities in Scotland through proposed pilot sites in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee. These facilities will be able to provide real-time information about the substances in circulation, issue alerts about anything of concern and provide essential harm-reduction information to individuals using the service.

Scottish Government officials met with UK Government officials recently to discuss the Global Coalition on Synthetic Drugs and are contributing to the sub-working groups on this.

Planning is also underway to host a meeting of national and international partners to discuss this issue and learn from the experience of other countries. A lot of the harm reduction interventions we already have in place are what is recommended to counter the dangers of these new substances.