Drug deaths in Scotland highest since records began


1,264 drug-related deaths were recorded in Scotland in 2019, according to statistics published today by National Records of Scotland.


‘Drug-related deaths’ are defined as deaths caused by unintentional overdoses of drugs. The figures show the toll is 6% higher than in 2018, and the highest since records began in 1996.


The drug-death rate for Scotland is higher than those reported for all the EU countries and is approximately 3½ times that of the UK as a whole. Scotland has recorded the highest ever number of drug-related deaths for the past six consecutive years. There were 1,187 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018 – a 27% increase on 2017.


David Liddell, Scottish Drugs Forum’s CEO, said:


“The statistics announced today are a grievous reminder of the human cost of the ongoing public health crisis we face in Scotland.


“For each of these deaths, there is a family and a group of bereaved people coping with their loss, often after years of caring and supporting someone suffering from problem drug use. The cost to families and friends cannot be measured and the consequences can be serious, with the potential to have a long-term impact on their health and future lives.


“Ending this emergency must be the immediate priority for all of us and will require a concerted effort from all relevant agencies as well as political leadership and public support.


“None of us should regard these preventable deaths as acceptable or as anything other than a national tragedy and disgrace.


“The need for change is obvious and that change is long overdue.


“Thankfully, we are fortunate that the evidence shows us exactly what changes need to be made. We need people to be in high-quality treatment that protects them from overdose and death.


“Recently published treatment standards for Scotland can be a real driver of this necessary change and we are seeing encouraging improvements in services – but we must quicken the pace of change.


“The new standards insist that people gain quick access to treatment; have a choice of medication that best suits them; get the support they need to stay in treatment and access to any other supports they may benefit from. Broadly, the challenge in terms of treatment is to ensure that people with a drug problem are treated with dignity and respect.


“In addition, we need to increase the range of services across Scotland to include drug consumption rooms, heroin-assisted treatment and assertive outreach.


“We need to end the alienation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people with a drug problem – the root cause of this issue, which reflects badly on a culture and mindset that we have allowed to develop unchallenged over many years.


“The time to challenge and end all of that has come. As part of this approach, we should decriminalise the possession of all drugs and extend the current recorded police warning for cannabis possession to apply to all other drugs.


“There is a need for leadership and a national effort to ensure this potential is realised.”



Is there a role for pharmacy in Scotland to prevent drug deaths?



For more information on the Scottish drugs forum please click here.


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