Scottish Drug-Related Deaths Study: A Syndemic Systems Approach

Drug-related deaths (DRDs) in Scotland are at an all-time high, having increased markedly in the past decade. An ageing population of drug users, alongside the existence of multiple co-occurring health conditions, are proposed as contributing factors.

This two-year study will take a broad evidence-informed approach by integrating statistical and experiential evidence to address a key knowledge gap identified by Scottish Government. We aim to increase understanding of commonly co-occurring conditions, prescriptions, and concurrent social factors that may play a role in drug-related deaths, and explore opportunities for action. We will draw upon existing national data on drug-related deaths and experiential evidence from a series of stakeholder workshops to explore:

1: Which health and social factors simultaneously cluster among people who have a DRD?

2: Which clusters of health and social factors are relevant points to intervene?

3: Which points of this system are potentially modifiable, and what mechanisms of change can be employed to improve the health of people who use drugs, and reduce DRDs?

Statistical analysis of all drug-related deaths will explore health and social condition clustering. We will facilitate a stakeholder workshop series, with those with professional and lived-experience of drug use. The workshops will employ systems thinking tools, following a structured process, drawing on established methodology. The statistical analysis and workshop series are integrated; workshops will both inform the statistical analysis and then use its findings to develop ways forward. The aim of the workshops is to discuss the problem, taking account of the wider context surrounding drug-related death, to identify potential opportunities to intervene e.g. where problematic combinations of health and social conditions are identified, and decide what further data analysis and development work is required to progress to testing an intervention(s). This study will provide new evidence on the substantial problem of drug-related deaths.

The project is funded by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office.


MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit logo 800 wide