Drugs deaths in Scotland rise for sixth year in a row
The number of drugs deaths in Scotland has risen for the sixth year in a row.
Drug-related deaths increased by six per cent to 1,264 in 2019, compared to 1,187 in 2018, according to statistics published by National Records of Scotland.
This is the highest number since records began in 1996, when there were 244 deaths.
The number of drugs deaths have more than doubled since 2014 and the last drop in deaths was in 2013.
The largest increase in deaths was among 35 to 44-year-olds, followed by the 45 to 54 age group.
Nearly seven in 10 of those who died were male and over two thirds were aged 35-54.
Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the highest rate of deaths at 0.27 per 1,000 population, followed by Tayside and Ayrshire and Arran with rates of 0.21 and 0.20 per 1,000 population respectively.
Heroin and morphine were implicated in more deaths than in any previous year, and over half of the total.
Most drug users who died took more than one substance.
Scotland’s drug-death rate in 2019 was higher than those reported for all the EU countries, and was approximately 3.5 times that of the UK as a whole.
Responding to the statistics, public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said the deaths resulted from “a longstanding and complex set of challenges” and there was “no shortcut” to a solution.
FitzPatrick said: “Each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy and I would like to offer my condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of those who have lost their lives.
“The Scottish Government is doing everything in its powers to tackle rising drug deaths, and we are working urgently to put in place high-quality, person-centred services for those most at risk.
“The Drug Deaths Taskforce’s forward plan outlines the longer-term interventions we’re putting in place to tackle this problem.
“Significant progress has also been made in meeting the commitments set out in our alcohol and drug strategy – for example the new Residential Rehabilitation Working Group is continuing its work to ensure access to residential rehabilitation services for everyone who needs them.
“These deaths stem from a longstanding and complex set of challenges, and there is no shortcut that will suddenly solve this.
“There is, however, action that we are taking right now that will have an impact more immediately, such as maximising the availability of Naloxone and the routes by which it can be supplied.
“Our work to introduce medication assisted treatment standards is one of the most significant changes to the way in which treatment services operate.
“Furthermore, we have seen the introduction of a range of new and innovative approaches, including Scotland’s first heroin assisted treatment service in Glasgow.
“We will continue to work with the taskforce and other partners to identify and put in place measures to tackle this issue and save lives.
“We also continue to urge the UK Government to take action to change the law so that overdose prevention facilities can be established as quickly as possible, either by taking the necessary steps themselves or by devolving powers to Scotland.”
David Liddell, CEO of the Scottish Drugs Forum, 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.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health spokesman Donald Cameron said the statistics were “both dreadful and heartbreaking in equal measure”.
He commented: “Every one of these deaths is a tragic loss of life that could have been avoided.
“It is appalling that drug deaths have doubled in a decade, and there's no doubt that this government's cuts to drug rehab and addiction programmes have a large part to play in this awful trend.
“The Scottish Conservatives have backed calls from rehab organisations – including Favor Scotland, Jericho House and Phoenix Futures – for a £20 million Scottish Recovery Fund.
“We need to start helping people to get off drugs and get well, we can’t simply try to manage addictions and leave it there.
“Increased funding for rehab is the evidence-based solution to start doing that and saving lives in the process.”
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon said: “Every drug-related death is an avoidable tragedy and the scale of the crisis in Scotland demands a radical rethink from all political leaders.
“Scotland’s drug death rate is one of the worst in the world. We can’t sweep this public health and human rights emergency under the carpet a moment longer.
“Safe consumption facilities and increased rapid access to residential rehabilitation are vital and could happen today.
“The Scottish government doesn’t need to wait. People who misuse drugs and their families need urgent action and telling people whose lives are in turmoil to be patient is insulting and unambitious.
“All political parties should be willing to work together to end the stigma, save lives and to help Scotland’s recovery community thrive.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “When the 2018 statistics were published, revealing a record 1,187 drug deaths, many thought that would be a wake-up call for government.
“Yet the 2019 figures are even worse, showing a heart-breaking 1,264 deaths.
“1,264 lives have tragically ended because of a shameful failure of leadership.
“1,264 families have lost a loved one because rather than take decisive action, our two governments continually pass the buck to one another.
“Scotland’s current approach to drug deaths has demonstrably failed. It fails families every day and if that approach isn’t changed it will continue to fail, with tragic consequences.
“Carrying on as we are now is intolerable.
“It’s clear that Scotland cannot arrest its way out of a drug deaths crisis. When it comes to drugs, criminalisation has caused more harm than it can claim to have prevented.
“If our governments are serious about saving lives then a public health approach must take precedence.
“Addiction is better tackled by trained medical professionals, than the strong arm of the law.
“Decriminalisation is obviously needed, but with a hard-right home secretary in a hard-right Tory government that obviously isn’t going to happen right now. So, we must explore alternative solutions.
“The Lord Advocate has the power to act now. He should use his public interest discretion to ensure that no health professionals would face prosecution for providing lifesaving health interventions.
“Establishing safe consumption facilities could play a significant role in reducing drug related deaths and other serious harms.
“There is nothing more obviously in the public interest than preventing loss of life. So, I urge the Lord Advocate to act now. The longer he delays, the more lives will be tragically lost.”
A drugs death taskforce was set up in July 2019 to tackle the rising number of drugs deaths in Scotland.
Professor Catriona Matheson, chair of the Drug Deaths Taskforce, said: “The taskforce members give their sympathy and thoughts to everyone affected by the loss and personal tragedy that the figures represent.
“The 2019 rise reflects why the taskforce has been formed and adds urgency to our mission to identify an evidence-based strategy to tackle this problem and save lives as we do so.
“We are supporting over 100 partnership initiatives across Scotland and all our work comes from a place of kindness and compassion.
“I would encourage everyone to look at our website and learn more about the work we do.”