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Drugs deaths in Scotland hit record level for seventh year running

© Shutterstock / mikeledrayPost Thumbnail

Scotland’s drug deaths rose to a record 1,339 in 2020, the seventh time in a row that the number has risen.

Data released by National Records of Scotland on Friday showed a figure 5% higher than the previous year, when 1,264 people lost their lives.

It means that the country continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe, with 21.2 deaths per 1,000 of the population, more than three-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK.

Glasgow was again found to be the worst area for people struggling with addiction, with 291 dying last year in the city.

Responding to the figures, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Today, my thoughts are with every family who has lost a loved one – I am sorry for the loss you have suffered.”

She wrote on Twitter: “However, I know that from @scotgov what is required isn’t words, but action to prevent people dying, and that is what we are determined to deliver.”

She said the number of lives lost “is unacceptable, each one a human tragedy” and that the Scottish Government “does not shirk the responsibility & we are determined to make changes that will save lives”.

‘Eye off the ball’: How Scotland’s politicians presided over a drug deaths emergency

The first minister added: “These 2020 figures (though no less shameful because of it) predate actions set out at start of year.

“We now have a dedicated drugs minister in @AConstanceSNP, a substantial funding commitment and action underway to eg ensure faster access to community support, treatment and rehab.

“We will also continue to argue for reform of drugs law, which is not currently within our power.”

Opiods

The figures showed that opioids remained the number one cause of drug related death in Scotland in 2020.

Of the 1,339 people who died from drugs last year, 1,192 were related in some way to opioids.

However, in a sign that more drug users are mixing substances, benzodiazepines – use of which has soared in recent years due to easy availability – were implicated in 974 deaths in 2020.

Men were also 2.7 times more likely to die from drugs than women last year, with 973 deaths compared with 366 female victims.

Deprivation also continued to be a major factor in drug deaths, with those in the poorest areas of the country 18 times more likely to die than their more affluent counterparts, the data showed.

‘Heart-breaking’

Scotland’s drugs minister has said the number of deaths from drugs last year was “heart-breaking”.

Angela Constance, who was appointed at the end of last year to try to combat the rising tide of drug-related deaths, announced that figures will be published quarterly from September to help the response to the crisis.

© Scottish Government
Angela Constance

She said: “Once again, the statistics on drug-related deaths are heart-breaking. I want to offer my sincere condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one through drug use.

“We need to gather as much information as we can about drug use in Scotland and to that end, data on suspected drug deaths will be published quarterly from this September. This will ensure we can react more quickly and effectively to this crisis and identify any emerging trends.

“We are working hard to get more people into the treatment that works for them as quickly as possible. Without treatment, there is little hope of recovery so we are funding as many community and third sector initiatives as we can so that individuals have the widest possible choice and can opt for the support which suits them and their family.

“Of the £250 million announced over the next five years, £100 million will go on improving the provision of residential rehabilitation and I will update Parliament on progress in this area after the summer recess.

“As I have said before, I am determined that every penny of this additional funding will make a difference to all those affected by drug use in Scotland.”