Record drug fatalities ‘a national tragedy’ for Scotland

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Scotland has once again recorded its highest ever number of drug-related deaths, at 706 – almost two per day.

The 2015 figures are 15 per cent higher than 2014’s already record figure of 613 (DDN, September 2015, page 4), which itself was up 16 per cent on the previous year. Scottish Drugs Forum CEO David Liddell said the numbers were a ‘national tragedy for Scotland’ and ‘the ultimate indicators’ of the country’s health inequalities.

The total number of deaths now stands at more than double the amount recorded a decade ago, with males accounting for almost 70 per cent. More than 30 per cent of the deaths were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS area, and 73 per cent were among the over-35s. ‘One or more’ opiates or opioids including heroin/morphine and methadone were implicated in, or potentially contributed to, more than 600 of the deaths (86 per cent) – a higher figure than in any previous year.

While NPS were implicated in or potentially contributed to 74 deaths, only three were thought to have been caused by NPS alone. The figure for benzodiazepines, meanwhile, stood at 191 deaths and cocaine at 93.

‘The deaths are heavily concentrated in our poorest communities and if you look behind the lives of most people who have died you will find a life of disadvantage, often starting with a troubled early life,’ said David Liddell. ‘Rather than focusing on individuals and blaming their “lifestyle” we need to understand how we as a society have failed and continue to fail so many people.’

The deaths were preventable, he stressed, but less than half of Scots with a drug problem were in treatment or care services at any one time. ‘We know that being in effective treatment protects people against dying of an overdose so we need to look at ways to increase the reach and retention rates of services. We also have to look at the quality of those services. These figures represent a national challenge to our image of ourselves and an opportunity to show that we, as a society, care.’

Addaction Scotland said that it was ‘deeply concerned’ by the figures, drawing attention to the ‘uncertainty of current and future funding’ of services and adding that provision of fixed-site needle exchanges – often the entry point for people to engage in treatment – had fallen.

The statistics were ‘a legacy of Scotland’s drug misuse which stretches back decades’, said public health minister Aileen Campbell. ‘We remain committed to tackling the scourge of illegal drugs and the damage they do to our communities, and to support those who are struggling with addiction.’

Drug-related Deaths in Scotland in 2015 at www.nrscotland.gov.uk