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by Margaret Taylor
14 January 2022
Former police chief named as new chair of Drug Deaths Taskforce

Former police chief named as new chair of Drug Deaths Taskforce

A former police chief who two years ago wrote a damning report into the state of mental health services in Tayside has been named as the new chair of the Scottish Government’s Drug Deaths Taskforce.

David Strang, who was formerly HM Chief Inspector of Prisons as well as chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, has taken up the position with immediate effect.

It comes after the former chair – University of Stirling substance misuse expert Professor Catriona Matheson – and vice-chair – former deputy chief constable Neil Richardson – resigned from their posts at the end of last year.

Matheson and Richardson, who were tasked with finding a way to curb Scotland’s high incidence of drug-related deaths, stood down after being asked to produce their findings by the summer.

Matheson told the BBC that she and Richardson had been put under pressure to speed up their work and that neither had been “prepared to continue and do a rushed job”.

Strang, who in 2020 made 50 recommendations for a “fundamental redesign” of Tayside’s mental health service, said he had been “keen” to lead the Drug Deaths Taskforce’s “important work”.

"Every premature death as a result of drug use is a tragedy for individuals, their families and communities,” he said.

“The Drug Deaths Taskforce is making a significant contribution to improving Scotland's response to drug deaths and how they can be prevented.”

Drugs policy minister Angela Constance said the appointment of Strang represented a “new chapter” for the taskforce, which was set up by then public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick in 2019 to address what he called the “emergency” in rising drug-deaths numbers. The figures went on to reach a record high of 1,339 in 2020.

Constance confirmed that the taskforce will still be expected to “accelerate” publications of its final recommendations under Strang, with a final report expected by the summer.

“As we focus now on delivery and change on the ground, we need quicker, practical advice from the taskforce – building on what it has already provided and achieved,” she said.

A new vice-chair for the taskforce is expected to be announced imminently.

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