Scottish drug deaths highest on record

National Records of Scotland figures show there were 1,339 deaths, an increase of 5% on 2019 and the highest figure on record.

The Scottish Government recently announced that £250 million will be spent on addressing the emergency over the next five years.

Angela Constance MSP was appointed in December 2020 to the newly created post of Drugs Policy Minister.

Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance MSP 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. Without treatment, there is little hope of recovery so we are funding as many community and third sector initiatives as we can so that individuals have the widest possible choice and can opt for the support which suits them and their family.

“Of the £250 million announced over the next five years, £100 million will go on improving the provision of residential rehabilitation and I will update Parliament on progress in this area after the summer recess.

“As I have said before, I am determined that every penny of this additional funding will make a difference to all those affected by drug use in Scotland.”

Drug Deaths Taskforce Chair Professor Catriona Matheson said:

“Every drug-related death in Scotland is an avoidable tragedy, and these figures serve to remind us of the importance and urgency of our mission to identify the areas of action that can make a sustainable impact against the challenge.

“We believe the approach of putting evidence into action has saved lives, and we will analyse the detail behind the headlines and look to build upon those areas showing progress and to address those areas requiring more attention.

“Both the causes of, and the solutions to, the challenge we all face are complex, at its heart are real people at real risk, and we continue to be determined to make difference for them.”

Lothians & Edinburgh Abstinence Programme Clinical Lead Dr David McCartney said:

“All of us who work in addiction treatment are appalled at the high level of drug-related deaths in Scotland. Having a wide range of treatment options that are holistic, reduce harm, promote recovery and are integrated into a recovery-oriented system of care is essential to address the crisis. I welcome the Scottish Government’s investment in residential rehabilitation treatment as part of the wider approach under the National Mission.”

Laura Wilson, RPS Scotland Policy and Practice Lead said:

“It’s concerning that drug-related deaths and hospital admissions continue to rise in Scotland.  Many of these deaths are preventable. Pharmacists, and pharmacy teams, already play a big role in supporting and providing treatment to people who use drugs, as well as offering harm reduction services and advice. The RPS wants to build on this fantastic work by enabling them to do even more to reduce harm from drugs.

“We are calling on the Scottish Government, pharmacy organisations, contractors and members of the profession to work together to reduce harm from drugs and improve the health of people who use drugs. We are also asking for significant resources, expertise and finance to be made available.

“Scotland needs to take action to reduce its high level of drug deaths, and pharmacy is well placed to play a critical role within this.”

Andrew Horne, director of the drug, alcohol and mental health charity With You, said:

“With You remains concerned and saddened by the tragic and continual increase in the numbers of lives lost due to problems with drugs. Every drug-related death is preventable, and each death has a huge impact on families and communities, continuing to be felt years down the line. Our thoughts are with the thousands of people who have lost a loved one in the past year.

“We have a mountain to climb to reverse these alarming figures but with the recently strengthened commitment and decisive action now being taken, we are hopeful that change is possible. 

“New investment in outreach teams for people who have had a non-fatal overdose or who have dropped out of treatment marks a significant step forward, as does the improved support for people transitioning from prison into the community. Changes to enable quicker access to appointments and more choice over treatment, as standard across Scotland, are also positive. 

“These figures are stark, but with new initiatives, clear standards and high expectations of services and partnership working, they can be brought down.”

Scottish Drugs Forum CEO David Liddell commented:

“These figures confirm that Scotland’s national public health emergency continues.  These deaths are personal tragedies.  Families and communities are left to grieve.  The trauma will be felt through generations and for years.  These deaths represent a scar on the nation’s conscience and serve as a reminder of our collective failure to support vulnerable people and their families in the moments when they most needed support. 

“Our collective failure to do what needs to be done to prevent people with a drug problem dying through overdose is a national disgrace.  The evidence for what should be done is clear and unequivocal.  While people’s lives are often complicated and challenging, their needs are clear.  What works, and what needs to be improved for people in Scotland,  is treatment and support.

“New standards for drug treatment were published in May of this year. These should transform services – not just the processes involved but the whole culture of treatment which should empower people and give them choice and control in their lives. 

“These new standards need to be implemented as a national priority.  To be clear, treatment services will not transform themselves.  Change will require investment, leadership and higher expectations from the Scottish public, people who may use treatment services, their families and communities.

“Only 35-40% of the 58000 people with a drug problem in Scotland are in treatment.  In the rest of the UK that figure is nearly double Scotland’s rate.  Why is that? It may be painful to admit but for many people in desperate need, treatment, in too many parts of Scotland, is neither accessible nor acceptable.  That has to change if we are to deliver on the National Mission to reduce drug deaths.

“We need a full range of community treatment services which are accessible on the day people ask for help.  Some people need a choice of medication beyond just methadone and buprenorphine including heroin-assisted treatment.  We also need to consider the needs of people who have problems both with both opiates and other types of drugs – benzodiazepines and cocaine, for example.  We need a full range of residential services including stabilisation and crisis intervention services where people can step out of their present circumstances, achieve stability and be supported to address the issues they have, including issues with their medication.

“As well as medical treatment people need a therapeutic relationship with their treatment provider, and wider social supports around things like housing, welfare and employability. People in Scotland’s most deprived areas are 18 times more likely to have a drug-related death than others. We need to address a whole range of issues simultaneously and not look at issues in isolation.  Treatment, recovery, decriminalisation and so on need to be seen in a wider context that includes poverty. Everybody, including people with a drug problem, need a home and something to do during their day.  They need a positive network of people around them including the professionals they encounter.  Where they have problems, they need realistic hope that there are supports so that things can change.”

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