Drugs deaths in Scotland increase by 23 per cent in 2016

Written by Jenni Davidson on 15 August 2017 in News

Older drugs users make up the majority of the deaths last year

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Drugs deaths in Scotland increased by 23 per cent last year, according to the latest figures released by National Records of Scotland.

There were 867 deaths resulting from drug use in 2016, compared with 706 in 2015.

The number of deaths has doubled over the last decade, with only 421 deaths recorded in 2006.

Opiates and opioids such as heroin, methadone and morphine contributed, or potentially contributed, to most of the fatalities.

Older drugs users accounted for the majority of the deaths, with 72 per cent aged over 35, and only 42 deaths last year – five per cent – among young people under-24s.

The median age for deaths from drug use continues to be 41, following the trend in recent years.


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The number of deaths in Scotland is higher than those reported across the EU – although it is thought that some countries may be underreporting – and two and half times the average for the UK as a whole.

Commenting on the figures, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have criticised the Scottish Government for cutting funding to tackle addiction.

Scottish Labour inequalities spokesperson Monica Lennon said: “Scotland now has the highest number of drug-related deaths on record, a figure that has doubled since 2006.

“Lives have been ruined and families left to cope with grief and trauma for years to come.

“A year ago I criticised the Scottish Government for slashing alcohol and drug partnership funding at a time when drug deaths were hitting record levels. 

"SNP ministers need to give themselves a shake and take responsibility for their actions.

“If you underfund vital substance misuse services people die. 

"I urge the SNP government to have the courage to take a different course.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “It’s shocking to hear that the number of drug-related deaths has spiralled to their highest ever level.

“Each is a tragedy that could have been prevented. 

“The Scottish Government slashed funding to drug and alcohol partnerships by more than 20 per cent.

“Valuable local facilities have shut their doors. It is even clearer now that this was completely the wrong decision. 

“These services are best placed to intervene and help avoid lives from being lost.

“That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats would restore funding to drug and alcohol services and reform the failing existing drug law enforcement strategies.

“This would ensure help is there for people when they need it, alleviate the burden on our NHS and free up the justice system to tackle the organised crime producing and dealing drugs.”

Alison Johnstone MSP, the Scottish Greens’ health spokesperson, also called for a “serious rethink” about the support given to people with addictions, particularly young people.

She said: “There’s a clear link between mental health and drug and alcohol addiction and the government has to do so much more to help drug users at a young age to prevent a rapid and irreversible deterioration in their health.

“We need a serious rethink of how we support people with addictions.

“Often, they are being asked to jump through hoops, where rather than making a single phone call to register for support, they are instructed to make phone calls and attend appointments at specific times – no easy thing to do if you’re struggling with addiction and a chaotic lifestyle and little support. 

“Regardless of location, equal access to a range of treatment is key."

But Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health, said that progress is being made in terms of drug taking among adults falling and that drug use among young people remains low, while treatment times for drugs problems have reduced.

She suggested the issues behind the deaths were “complex” and many of the deaths related to “prolonged drug use” over a long period of time.

Campbell said: “We are dealing with a very complex problem in Scotland – a legacy of drugs misuse stretching back decades.

“What we are seeing is an ageing group of people who are long-term drugs 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.

"Unfortunately, there is a general trend of increasing drug-related deaths across the UK and in many other parts of Europe.

“There are no easy solutions but we recognise that more needs to be done.

“This is why I recently announced a refresh of our drugs strategy in response to the changing landscape we are seeing.

“This will provide an opportunity to reinvigorate our approach, to respond to the new challenges emerging and to be more innovative in our response to the problems each individual is facing.

“The evidence is clear that one of the most effective methods for stopping people from dying from substance use is for them to be engaged with services.

“Therefore, our refreshed strategy will include a new ‘Seek, Keep, Treat’ programme which will challenge service providers to adapt their approaches to meet the needs of each drug user.

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