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by Louise Wilson
28 July 2022
Scotland's drug death toll hits 1,330 in 2021

A demonstration on International Overdose Awareness Day in Glasgow last year | Alamy Stock Photo

Scotland's drug death toll hits 1,330 in 2021

Scotland witnessed its second deadliest year of drug-related deaths last year, according to official statistics.

In 2021, 1,330 people lost their lives to drug misuse – down just nine from the highest figure the year before.

But it is the first year since 2013 where drug deaths have not increased.

Drugs death minister Angela Constance said the figures were "unacceptable" but welcomed the one per cent drop from 2020.

She added: "While there is so much more work to do, every life saved means one less family grieving and I am determined we can use this halt in the upward trend of recent years as a platform for real change.

“My focus now is on taking action and delivering new investment to improve services and get more people into the treatment which works for them."

Dundee City continues to be the drug death capital of Scotland, with 45.2 deaths for 100,000 population over the last five-year period.

It is just ahead of Glasgow (44.4 deaths per 100,000).

Almost two-thirds of those who died were between 35 and 54, and the vast majority (70 per cent) were men.

People in the most deprived areas were 15 times more likely to die from a drug-related death than those in wealthier areas, a statistic that has widened in the last 20 years.

David Liddell of the Scottish Drugs Forum said each death represented an "on-going systemic failure in prevention".

He called for more investment in treatment services, saying: "Successful treatment is about developing relationships with service staff that empower the person in treatment. We need to look at the capacity of treatment services in terms of the workforce.  Too many of these essential workers are suffering the burnout that is common in working in under-resourced systems with very vulnerable people experiencing poverty. "

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said today's figures are a "badge of shame" and urged the government to take a new approach and back his Rights to Recovery Bill.

He said: "Scotland’s drug-deaths rate is not merely worse than that of any other European nation, it’s so off-the-scale bad, so uniquely awful, that the SNP Government have to accept their current approach isn’t working.

“It was a shameful admission by Nicola Sturgeon that she took her eye off the ball with drugs deaths. Now she and the SNP need to get behind Right to Recovery."

Last week the Scottish Drugs Deaths Taskforce published a 145-page report that was highly critical of the government’s response to Scotland’s persistently high-drug death figures.

Constance said the government was already implementing many of the taskforce's recommendations and will report back to parliament in due course.

Labour's Claire Baker said the government must "use every single power at their disposal" to get a handle on the situation. 

She added: "They can start by investing in woefully underfunded drug and alcohol services, which they cut to the bone despite warnings, and by delivering on the other recommendations of the Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce.”

The Scottish Greens' health spokesperson Gillian Mackay said it was "long past time that we adopted an approach which focuses on restoring people’s dignity and treating their addiction, rather than criminalising them.”

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "We urgently need specialist drug and alcohol commissions similar to what happens in Portugal, to end the destructive use of imprisonment for people misusing drugs, and to make safe consumption spaces available across the country."

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