Problem drug users and the criminal justice system

We aim to examine patterns of referral for treatment from problem drug users in Scotland and examine their outcomes, in terms of health vulnerabilities and death. 

Research focus

Scotland has a severe problem with problematic drug use and drug related deaths. The UK drugs policy, which is reserved to Westminster, currently treats drugs as a criminal justice issue and many drug users are, therefore, criminalised. However, concern that criminalising problem drug users may contribute to the death rate has led to calls for a ‘public health’ approach to be taken in Scotland. 

Using data from the Scottish Drugs Misuse Database, this study will examine a cohort of problematic drug users who were referred to specialist treatment services and compare the outcomes of those who were referred via a criminal justice route (e.g. prison or social work) to those who were not.  The project will not only allow us to validate the data (to identify how many problematic drug users had criminal justice contact) but it will enable us to determine whether health outcomes and risk of death are worse for this group. 

It is hoped that the research will help inform the future development of Scottish and UK drugs policy, especially around the implementation of public health approaches.

Data this research aims to link and analyse

  • SMR25: Scottish Drugs Misuse Database
  • SMR01: Hospital inpatients and day case records
  • Deaths records

Potential to link this dataset with the following for further work:

  • Police Scotland datazone level crime data

Research team

Professor Susan McVie and Ana Morales

Publications, Outputs and Media Coverage

When publications or outputs are available, they will be shared here.

For more information about this project, please contact us.

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