Scottish watchdog finds ‘drug and alcohol data is not good enough’

Audit agency calls for more and better information and improved transparency

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The Scottish public spending watchdog has called for improved data and greater transparency over how money is being spent to improve drug and alcohol services.

Audit Scotland called for a “clear plan” to improve people’s lives and bring more clarity to spending, saying it was “hard to see” what impact increased spending was having.

A record 1,339 people lost their lives to drugs in Scotland in 2020 – the highest rate in Europe. While the number of alcohol deaths had been in steady decline, there was a 16% increase in 2020, with 1,190 deaths.  Auditors described the delivery of services through local alcohol and drug partnerships (ADPs) as “complicated” and said lines of accountability were “not always clear”.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland said: “We’ve recently seen more drive and leadership around drug and alcohol misuse from the Scottish Government. But it’s still hard to see what impact policy is having on people living in the most deprived areas, where long-standing inequalities remain. 

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“Drug and alcohol data is not good enough, and there is a lack of transparency about how money is being spent and allocated. The Scottish Government needs to set out an integrated plan, with clear measures showing how extra spending is being used to reduce the tragic loss of life we’ve seen over the last decade.” 

Last year, the Scottish Government committed to invest £250m to reduce drug deaths, including £50m over the next five years. But Audit Scotland said details of how the £50m would be spent had not yet been published.

It also warned of data gaps around drug and alcohol referrals, waiting times and outcomes.

William Moyes, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Delivery of drug and alcohol services in Scotland is complex and difficult to navigate, with many organisations working across different sectors. What we need to see now is clearer accountability across all partners.  In the longer term, more focus is needed on the root causes of drug and alcohol dependency and breaking the cycle of harm stretching down generations and across communities.”   


Sam Trendall

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