Scotland has once again recorded its highest ever number of drug-related deaths, at 867. The 2016 figure is 23 per cent higher than the previous year and more than double the number from a decade ago. Scotland’s drug death rate is now higher than anywhere in the EU, and roughly two and a half times higher than the UK as a whole.
More than two thirds of the deaths were among males, and nearly a third were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS board area. Nearly 40 per cent of the deaths were of people aged between 35 and 44, and a quarter were among those aged 45 to 54, with the median age at death 41.
Opioids were implicated in, or ‘potentially contributed to’, almost 90 per cent of the total number of deaths, and benzodiazepines almost half. Although NPS were implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 286 deaths, only four were ‘believed to have been caused by NPS alone’.
Public health minister Aileen Campbell said the country was dealing with a ‘very complex problem’ and a legacy of drugs misuse stretching back decades. ‘What we are seeing is an ageing group of people who are long-term drug users. They have a pattern of addiction which is very difficult to break, and they have developed other chronic medical conditions as a result of this prolonged drugs use. There are no easy solutions but we recognise that more needs to be done.’
The Scottish Government recently published its updated drugs strategy, which includes a joint initiative with the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) on engaging older drug users and keeping them in treatment, called ‘Seek, Keep, Treat’, while a report from NHS Scotland and the University of Glasgow blamed Scotland’s record drug death figures on the impact of political decisions and social deprivation in the 1980s. England and Wales also recently registered a record number of drug-related fatalities.
‘The fatal drug overdose deaths are personal tragedies for the individuals and their families, and clearly of a scale which is a national tragedy that requires a fundamental rethink of our approach,’ said SDF chief executive David Liddell. ‘Other countries have achieved a reduction in overdose deaths by ensuring that people are appropriately retained in high-quality treatment and we must aspire to do the same.’
‘Today’s statistics are extremely concerning, but we believe that this number would be even higher if not for the efforts families are making in keeping their loved ones safe and alive,’ added Justina Murray, chief executive of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, whose staff team were out across Scotland in response to the statistics, offering advice and support.
The free and confidential support service is funded by the Scottish Government and has a network of counsellors and a bereavement support service – call 08080 101011.