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by Sofia Villegas
01 September 2023
Millions invested to find AI solution for drug-related deaths

NHS Fife will manage the innovative challenge

Millions invested to find AI solution for drug-related deaths

The Scottish Government's Chief Scientist Office will lead a programme which aims to use artificial intelligence to reduce drug deaths.

Building on the Vaccine Taskforce model and with a £5 million investment, NHS Fife will manage the Reducing Drugs Death Innovation challenge.  

The programme is a joint investment with £4.5m are coming from the office for life sciences, which is part of the UK government and rest from the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office.

A dozen studies will research how AI, amongst other technologies, could improve detection, response, or intervention in drug-related deaths.  

Projects include wearable technologies to detect overdoses and alert professionals to emergency systems using drone technology to deliver antidotes.  

Starting this month, the challenge will allow each project to launch a four-month-long feasibility study, funded by up to £100,000.  

Later next year, promising results will then be able to apply for £500,000 to test prototypes over the course of twelve months, in populations who are most at risk of overdose. 

Formed by several diverse organisations,  project cohorts include researchers from the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh. 

The UK Government’s Science, Innovation and Technology Minister, George Freeman, said: “The UK is already a world leader in much of the work this £5m challenge will support - from our £94 billion life science sector through to our AI industry which supports 50,000 jobs, backed by our record £20bn for R&D. 

“It is vital we use our world-leading position to prevent overdoses and save lives. This runs to the core of what our science superpower ambition is all about.”

In 2021, former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched a new national mission on drugs with a focus on emergency life-saving interventions, making this programme a potentially significant step forward in the strategy.  

Despite recent figures showing drug-related deaths in Scotland are at the lowest annual total since 2017, Dame Anna Dominiczak, Chief Scientific Advisor for Health, said the number “remains far too high”.

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