Research by Dundee researchers has shaped and informed the government response to illicit drug deaths

Directing changes in government policy to address illicit drug-related deaths

University of Dundee led research has changed the international approach to illicit drug deaths. Though reducing deaths was a national priority, no systematic research into Scottish deaths had previously occurred. Highlighting the heterogeneity of the deceased, Dr Alex Baldacchino, Dr. Brian Kidd and other researchers from Dundee identified deficits in care processes and multi-agency data sharing, making recommendations regarding monitoring. 

Dr Baldacchino and Dr Kidd have played an instrumental role in a series of studies, investigations and reports since 2002 which have provided and a more detailed picture of the factors which influence drug deaths in Scotland.  Dr Kidd was a member of a working group of the Scottish Advisory Committee on Drug Misuse and the Scottish Executive's subsequent action plan strongly acknowledged the role of these investigations in shaping its priorities. The research was published in 2005 in a Scottish Executive report, placing these findings in the public domain. Two associated research papers were published. Since then, ongoing research related to the primary study has addressed the areas identified in the national investigation and associated papers and has continued to have an impact on local, national and international policy and delivery.

From 2007, Baldacchino developed the East Central Scotland drug death investigation team, serving three regional NHS Board areas. This team has supplied intelligence and analysis for the past 6 years.

Additional collaborative research with UK partners also explored factors relevant to the development of preventive strategies, generating advice for European Agencies such as the EMCDDA, as well as the wider drug education and prevention community. Baldacchino successfully led collaborative bids for EU grants to support approaches aimed at influencing EU policy to reduce drug deaths. This research echoed the Scottish Investigation to explore in greater depth multiple factors that may be relevant in creating preventive strategies for this heterogeneous population.

Research Impact

  • the government response to illicit drug deaths has been influenced by this research to introduce a standardised mandatory annual review process, enhancing understanding of drug death in Scotland and facilitating targeted prevention approaches
  • the research has informed strategy development in the UK via the national programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (np-SAD) and the European Union (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction; EMCDDA)


  • Dr Alex Baldacchino
  • Clinical Senior Lecturer in Addiction Psychiatry
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