Scottish Government accused of wasting millions with ineffective 'placebo' drugs policy

Press/Media: Expert Comment


On publication of the policy placebos paper, the Daily Record published an article whihc includes expert commentary from the author Dr Iain McPhee.  The sub heading indicates that:

'A damning study claims large grants have been channelled to the same organisations again and again, despite previous failures to improve death rates'.

The Scottish Government has been accused of allowing millions of pounds to be wasted during the battle to bring down drug deaths.

A damning study claims large grants have been channelled to the same organisations again and again, despite previous failures to improve death rates.

Dr Iain McPhee and Barry Sheridan, of the University of the West of Scotland, claim that the defunct Drug Deaths Task Force was hampered by the inclusion of people who were already running drugs initiatives.

This, they claim, led to a lack of criticism within the drug field – amounting to a “placebo policy”.

The paper published in the Drugs Habits and Social Police journal states: “The creation of the Drug Death Task Force, while a legitimate policy response to rising drug deaths, meets the requirements of being described as a placebo policy.

“The announcement of a task force allowed the Scottish Government to avoid tackling the ‘wicked problem’ of intergenerational deprivation as a risk factor for drug-related death and a considerable policy trap.”

The Task Force was formed in 2019 with Professor Catriona Matheson as chair while Joe FitzPatrick was public health minister.

He stood down the following year and the task force disbanded last year amid claims it was moving too slowly. Matheson and her deputy, former deputy chief constable Neil Richardson, resigned after being told to speed up.

The paper also recommends a rethink on how cash is constantly recycled to the same “policy communities”. It states: “Financial decision-making should, in our opinion, be more transparent.

“It would be highly beneficial to have drug policy monies solely administered by public sector bodies to improve accountability.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Policies to tackle this public health emergency are evidence-based and aim to get as many people as possible into the treatment which works for them while supporting a human rights- based approach”

Figures showed 1330 people died of overdoses in 2021 – a drop of just one per cent.

Period24 Jan 2023

Media contributions


Media contributions


TitleScottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Alcohol and Drugs
LocationScottish Parliament Holyrood, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Period4 Nov 2017


  • drug related death
  • placebo policy
  • policy networks
  • drug policy
  • poverty