Death from drugs reaches highest ever level
The number of drug related deaths in Scotland has risen sharply to a total of 1,187 in the past year.
Official figures from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) show a 27 per cent increase on 2017, making 2018 the worst year on record in Scotland.
In global terms that makes Scotland the country with the highest per capita drug deaths in the developed world, exceeding the United States which is in the midst of its own crisis of opioid related deaths.
The report from the NRS finds that the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area is the worst effected, followed by Lothian, Lanarkshire and Tayside. Together these regions account for two-thirds of all recorded deaths.
People between the ages of 35-54 are the most likely to die from drug overdoses. Men made up 72 per cent of deaths.
The NRS finds that in most cases a mixture of different types of drugs were involved in fatal overdoses. Opiates such as heroin, morphine and the prescription treatment drug methadone were found in 86 per cent of all cases.
Drug use and the rising number of related deaths in Scotland has been the subject of an inquiry by Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee, which last week took evidence from the Lord Advocate and the Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick.
Speaking on the newly released statistics, Fitzpatrick said: “The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking.
“It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue, and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk.”
The Scottish Government launched a Drug Deaths Taskforce this summer in order to investigate the underlying causes of the crisis and make policy recommendations. The taskforce is headed up by Stirling University Professor Catriona Matheson.
Matheson said: “My thoughts go out to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones.
“These figures bring the scale of the problem we face in Scotland into sharp focus. The need for urgent action is clear and the taskforce gives us a mechanism to do that.
“It is imperative that the taskforce identifies ways in which we can do more to save the lives of those who are most at risk and we will look carefully at what has worked in other parts of the UK and internationally to ensure we apply strong evidence-based practice.”
Opposition parties have called on the Scottish Government to do more to reduce the number of deaths.
Scottish Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Monica Lennon has called for a public health emergency to be declared, saying: “Behind these heart-breaking numbers are devastated families who have lost sons, daughters, mothers and fathers , in every part of Scotland.”
The Scottish Greens are recommending the Government introduce decriminalisation of drugs and the introduction of safe consumption rooms in problem areas.
Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie said: “It’s clear that the current approach to drugs from both the Scottish and UK Governments is not working.
“If we are to avoid seeing thousands more lives tragically lost then we must immediately adopt an evidence-based approach by for example permitting interventions such as supervised drug consumption facilities."