Drug-related stays in Scotland’s hospitals have quadrupled over the last 20 years, official figures show.
The fourfold increase in drug users staying in hospitals means that one in every 500 Scots were admitted for general, acute treatment in 2017-18 on average.
NHS Scotland statistics suggest that hospital stays due to drugs have gone up from 51 to 199 per 100,000 people, and have shown “a sharper increase” in recent years.
There were 10,509 drug-related general acute hospital stays in Scotland in 2017-18, of which 1,791 were because of overdoses or poisoning.
Ayrshire and Arran’s NHS had the highest proportion of hospital stays because of drugs, with 352 stays per 100,000 of the population, followed by Greater Glasgow and Clyde with 268.
Rates in rural Scotland were lower, with Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles having the fewest admissions as a proportion of their populations.
Heroin and opioids were the most common cause of hospital admissions, accounting for 58% of drug-related stays, while approximately half involved people who live in the most-deprived parts of Scotland.
Opioid use accounted for the highest percentage of stays in all but the oldest and two-youngest age groups, where almost a third (31%) of patients between 15 to 24 years old involved cocaine and 28% were due to cannabis-based drugs.
Responding to the release of the figures, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “There is no single simple solution to addressing the harm caused by drugs.
“We’re taking forward evidence-based actions and examining how services can evolve to ensure that they find those people most in need.
“This renewed focus has been backed by additional investment of £20 million in drug and alcohol treatment and support services and will be used to improve the provision and quality of services.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton called for the Scottish Government’s drug strategy to be revised and said: “There has been a devastating increase in drug-related hospital stays and deaths in recent years. The situation continues to deteriorate and this should compel the Scottish Government to go further.
“With more people than ever at the most serious end of the scale, health professionals are run off their feet. Depleted local facilities are still in recovery from the SNP’s brutal cuts to alcohol and drug partnerships.
“The Scottish Liberal Democrats have set out a clear, practical plan of how to turn this around, including protecting partnership budgets, sending people to treatment instead of prison, and establishing proposals for a Scotland-wide network for the provision of heroin-assisted treatment.
“Now is the time to act, before it’s too late for many more people.”
Scottish Conservative public health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “These are just the latest figures suggesting the war on drugs is being lost, and being lost badly.
“No doubt the SNP will claim this is more evidence of the need for NHS-run heroin injecting facilities.
“But that’s only going to make it easier for people to take a drug which completely ruins their life and makes them unable to function in society at any level at all.
“Over the last 12 years, the SNP government has failed abysmally to tackle Scotland’s problems with drugs.
“As a result, thousands of vulnerable people have been let down, and communities have been savaged by the continual scourge of drugs on our streets.”
David Liddell, Scottish Drugs Forum’s CEO, said: “These figures are of great concern.
“It highlights very clearly the need for greater and targeted interventions with this population both within the hospital setting and in the community, which can reduce unplanned hospital admissions.
“This will save the NHS resources and deliver a better service to people with a drug problem.”