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by Louise Wilson
22 August 2023
Drug deaths fall by a fifth but still top 1,000

Drug deaths fall by a fifth but still top 1,000

Drug deaths in Scotland fell by a fifth in 2022, with 279 fewer deaths recorded than the previous year. 

In total, 1,051 people died from drug misuse last year – the lowest figure since 2017. 

Drugs minister Elena Whitham welcomed the fall, adding that efforts to tackle the crisis were “gathering pace”. 

She added: “While I am pleased to see that hundreds of families have been spared this agony and lives have been saved, every life lost is a tragedy and the number of deaths is still too high. 

“I will never underestimate the scale of the challenge we continue to face, including responding to new threats such as synthetic opioids and stimulant use.  

“I can see that our work across Scotland – where we have already supported 300 grass-roots projects, including ‘Back on the Road’ – is gathering pace, and I’m grateful to all those delivering vital services.” 

She also reiterated her call to the UK Government to reform drug law to allow the Scottish Government to introduce further harm reduction measures. 

The rate of drug deaths in Scotland was 2.7 times as high as the UK average in 2021 (the most recent year that data is available for the UK).

Despite the fall, figures remain considerably higher than they were two decades ago. 

Inequality continues to play a significant role in drug deaths, with those from Scotland’s most deprived communities 16 times more likely to die from drug misuses than those in the least deprived areas.  

Glasgow and Dundee remain the drug death capitals of Scotland, recording the highest rates (after adjusting for age) at 44.4 deaths and 43.1 deaths per 100,000 population. 

The average age of a person dying a drug-related death is 45, while men are twice more likely to die than women (though there was a greater reduction in male drug deaths last year than female). 

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross - who has urged Scottish ministers to back his Right to Recovery Bill - described the figures as "heart-breaking".

He added: "While these latest numbers indicate some progress is being made from an utterly catastrophic base, Scotland’s appalling fatality rate means we remain the drugs-death capital of Europe by an enormous and alarming distance."

Scottish Labour's Jackie Baillie welcomed the reduction but said government efforts so far had amounted to "unpicking the damage of years of SNP cuts to drug and alcohol treatment".

She said: "We know there is no quick fix to this problem. The SNP need to provide more support for those struggling with drug dependency, invest in services in local communities and tackle the issue at its root."

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