A new early detection system will allow drug users to flag up bad batches of pills, overdose clusters and lethal new trends.
The RADAR project, run by Public Health Scotland, is designed to help battle our calamitous overdose crisis by identifying where urgent action should be immediately focused.
The early warning system involves a confidential website, which needs no log-in and allows information to be passed on immediately and anonymously, bypassing bodies like police and social services.
The information gathered will be added to a national database of statistics provided by Police Scotland, the Ambulance Service and other bodies, with priorities quickly assigned.
RADAR (Rapid Action Drug Alerts and Response) hopes to soon be able to incorporate official drug testing results, which are in the pipeline, with services currently being evaluated.
Tara Shivaji, a consultant in Public Health Medicine and head of the drugs team in Public Health Scotland, said RADAR would bring real time information from the street top those who might be able to intervene to save lives.
She said: “One of the big challenges is that it can take quite a long time to get information about harms that are happening right now. We just haven’t had a way of collecting that information.
“With RADAR we are looking at all available public sector data, from Police Scotland and toxicology services, and seeing how we can gather it better.”
Shivaji said the key to effectively tackling drug deaths is knowing what to do, when to do it and where to do it.
She said: “RADAR is about trying to get information to the right people, who may be doing treatment services or providing outreach.
“This kind of work has been happening for years but it has operated patchily at local levels. We want to build on that to deliver a consistent service across Scotland.
“For example, the Police Scotland suspected drug related deaths data is recorded within 24 hours of a death occurring.
“We want to turn that into a form that allows us to identify if there are any unusual patterns happening in local areas.”
Vicki Craik, of the PHS Drugs Teams, said people who use drugs in communities would always be the best source of early warnings on overdoses, adverse reactions and other indicators of deadly changes in the drug trade.
She said: “RADAR allows us to process all that data, so if there is a cluster of harm we can validate that and then home in on the context.
“We can confirm that there is a risk of harm then send that to the assessment group. They will then consider the risk to health, the likelihood of harm and who we need to tell about it.
“When we learn of a cluster of overdoses that have happened somewhere in Scotland, we can establish, for instance, if there’s a new, harmful benzodiazepine in circulation.
“Then we can put out warnings and alerts and very quickly alert the people that are at risk of drug harm.”
• An online report form is here: www.publichealthscotland.scot/RADAR
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.