Scotland records highest ever drug deaths  

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Scotland has yet again recorded its highest ever number of drug-related deaths, at 934. The 2017 figure is 8 per cent up on the previous year (DDN, September 2017, page 4) and more than double the number from a decade ago. Scotland’s drug-death rate remains the highest of any EU country, and is around two and a half times that of the UK as a whole.

David Liddell: ‘Imagine drug strategy was based on the notion that people had the right to life’

Almost 40 per cent of the deaths were of people aged 35-44 and just under 30 per cent were in the 45-54 age group. Males accounted for 70 per cent of the deaths. As in previous years, the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS board area recorded the highest proportion, at 30 per cent. Opioids were implicated in ‘or potentially contributed to’ 87 per cent of the total number of deaths, with benzodiazepines implicated in or potentially contributing to 59 per cent.

The ‘sheer toll’ of drug-related deaths represented a ‘staggering weight carried by families and communities and the wider Scottish nation’, said Scottish Drugs Forum CEO David Liddell. ‘Just over 10,000 people have now died since these figures were first issued in 1996. That is the equivalent of the entire population of a Scottish town like Fort William or Stranraer or Methill or Haddington. Last year was a record high – and so was the year before and the year before that.’

Although Scots were now more than five times more likely to die from drugs than in traffic accidents the deaths were ‘entirely preventable’, he stated. ‘We know how to prevent drug-related deaths – and yet we don’t do all that we could to prevent them.’ It was vital that people had access to ‘high quality healthcare and support’, he stressed, as well as being removed from ‘the dangers of unregulated street drugs’.

‘A new Scottish drugs strategy is due to be announced – imagine it was based on the notion that people had the right to life,’ he said.

Although the vast majority of deaths were among men, the percentage increases between 2003-07 and 2013-17 were far higher for women – at more than 200 per cent – and a separate report suggests that reasons may include increasing rates of physical and mental health problems among women who use drugs, as well as factors such as abusive or coercive relationships, sex work and the impact of welfare reform.

‘It is unsurprising that mortality figures can be high in areas of deprivation especially at a time when drug-related deaths are rising nationally – when deprivation is often seen within an ageing cohort of drug users with increasingly complex health conditions,’ said Mike Pattinson, executive director at Change, Grow, Live (CGL). CGL staff were employing an assertive outreach approach, working directly with individuals who had been treated for a previous drug overdose.

Meanwhile, a new report from Blenheim says that uneven provision of naloxone is contributing to high rates of fatal overdose among prisoners in the period immediately after release, a situation CEO John Jolly described as ‘totally inexcusable’. ‘Too many people are falling through the gaps and too many people are dying,’ he said.

Drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2017 at www.nrscotland.gov.uk

Why are drug-related deaths among women increasing in Scotland? at www.gov.scot

Failure by design and disinvestment: the critical state of custody-community transitions at blenheimcdp.org.uk – read more on this report in our next issue, out on 9 July.