Scottish drug-related deaths reach record high

Drug-related deaths in Scotland have risen to their highest level since records began, newly published figures show.

Jul 30, 2021
By Tony Thompson

A total of 1,339 drug-related deaths were recorded during 2020, an increase of five per cent from 2019, according to statistics published by National Records of Scotland today (July 30).

The number of drug-related deaths has increased substantially over the past 20 years – there were 4½ times as many deaths in 2020 compared with 2000.

Of the total deaths, 93 per cent were determined to be the result of accidental overdoses while four per cent were considered to be the result of deliberate acts of self-poisoning.

After adjusting for age, people in the most deprived parts of the country were 18 times as likely to die from a drug-related death as those in the least deprived. Men were 2.7 times as likely to have a drug-related death than women, also after adjusting for age.

Almost two thirds of all drug-related deaths were of people aged between 35 and 54. The average age of drug-related deaths has increased from 32 to 43 over the last 20 years.

Greater Glasgow and Clyde was found to have the highest drug-related death rate of all health board areas, followed by Ayrshire and Arran and Tayside.

Scotland’s drug-death rate continues to be over 3½ times that for the UK as a whole, and higher than that of any European country.

Alan Ferrier, head of Demographic Statistics, said: “Sadly, last year saw the highest number of drug-related deaths in Scotland since reporting began 25 years ago, and 59 more deaths than were registered in 2019.

“At the beginning of the century, the rate of drug-related deaths in Scotland’s most deprived areas was 10 times that of our least deprived areas. By 2020 this gap had increased to 18 times as high.”

Responding to the figures on social media, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the number of lives lost “is unacceptable, each one a human tragedy”.

She added: “These 2020 figures (though no less shameful because of it) predate actions set out at start of year. We now have a dedicated drugs minister in @AConstanceSNP, a substantial funding commitment and action underway to ensure faster access to community support, treatment and rehab. We will also continue to argue for reform of drugs law, which is not currently within our power.

“Today, my thoughts are with every family who has lost a loved one – I am sorry for the loss you have suffered.”

Drugs minister Angela Constance described the statistics as “heartbreaking” as she announced plans to report drug deaths every quarter to inform the response to the crisis.

She said: “Once again, the statistics on drug-related deaths are heart-breaking. I want to offer my sincere condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one through drug use.

“We need to gather as much information as we can about drug use in Scotland and to that end, data on suspected drug deaths will be published quarterly from this September. This will ensure we can react more quickly and effectively to this crisis and identify any emerging trends. We are working hard to get more people into the treatment that works for them as quickly as possible.”

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