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by Margaret Taylor
12 March 2024
Suspected drug deaths rise by 10 per cent after a two-year period of decline

Suspected drug deaths rose by 10 per cent in 2023 | Alamy

Suspected drug deaths rise by 10 per cent after a two-year period of decline

There was a 10 per cent rise in suspected drug-related deaths over the course of 2023, reversing a trend that had begun to emerge in the last two years.

In total, Police Scotland suspects that drugs were implicated in 1,197 deaths over the course of 2023, up from 1,092 the previous year.

The 2022 figure represented a drop from 1,295 in 2021, which came after Police Scotland recorded an all-time high of 1,411 suspected drug deaths in 2020.

The 2020 figure led to the resignation of then public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick. Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon then went on to create the role of Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy, which was initially held by Angela Constance, before passing to Elena Whitham when Constance was promoted to justice secretary when Humza Yousaf replaced Sturgeon as first minister last year.

The role is currently held by Christina McKelvie, after Whitham resigned last month saying she was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said McKelvie must “act where her predecessors failed and deliver a joined-up response across government, including fair funding for rehabilitation and treatment services”.

“Despite the fact that over 5,200 lives have been lost to drugs since a public health emergency was declared, it is shocking that this SNP government’s budget for 2024-25 froze drug and alcohol spending, which amounts to a real-terms cut,” she said.

The latest figures show that the largest proportion of the suspected 2023 drug deaths (303) occurred in Greater Glasgow, where a safer-consumption room is expected to be up and running later this year after Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said she would be willing to advise police not to prosecute anyone for possession in or around the facility.

Overall there was a sharper rise in deaths among males than females, with 875 men suspected to have died due to overdose compared with 767 the previous year (a rise of 14 per cent) while 322 women, down from 325, were affected.

Scottish Conservative MSP Sue Webber called the figures “utterly appalling and heartbreaking” and called for Yousaf to support her party’s Right to Recovery Bill.

“It is time he urgently backed those proposals so we can enshrine in law a right to treatment for all those who need it to finally get a grip on Scotland’s drug deaths crisis,” she said.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton also called for “swift change” saying that “when 100 people a month are dying in Scotland’s drugs deaths emergency, we need to be open to anything that will save them”.

“Every tool at our disposal needs to be used to reduce harm and save lives,” he said. “That includes protecting the drug and alcohol budget, integrated drug checking facilities and preparing now for a network of safe consumption rooms because help can’t just be limited to Glasgow.”

Figures from National Records of Scotland (NRS) show that actual drug-related deaths were marginally lower than those reported by the police in 2020 and 2022, but the overall trend is the same, with a high of 1,339 being reported in 2020 followed by a drop to 1,330 in 2021 and 1,051 in 2022.

NRS figures for 2023 are not yet available.

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Read the most recent article written by Margaret Taylor - Humza Yousaf: Misleading to say government is rolling back on climate targets.

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