Drug-related in Scotland

Paul WheelhouseScots record highest number of drug-related deaths ever


Scotland recorded 613 drug-related deaths last year, the highest figure ever, according to new statistics from National Records of Scotland. The figure was 16 per cent higher than the previous year, with three quarters of the deaths among males.

The increase comes after a 9 per cent fall in 2013 (DDN, September 2014, page 4), following 2011’s record-high figure of 584 and just three fewer the following year. The average age of those dying from drug-related causes has also continued to rise, and now stands at 40 – 12 years older than when recording began in 1996. Sixty-seven per cent of last year’s deaths were among the over-35s, with just 8 per cent occurring among those under 25.

One or more opioids (including both heroin and methadone) were implicated in almost 90 per cent.

The figures showed that, while there had been some progress, Scotland still faced a ‘huge challenge in tackling the damaging effects of long-term drug use among an aging cohort’, said community safety minister Paul Wheelhouse. ‘This group of individuals often have long-term, chronic health problems as a result of sustained and, in many cases, increasingly chaotic drug-use issues. We need to better understand the needs of particular sub-groups and to better understand what role the purity, or strength, of illicit drugs is playing in increasing fatalities.’

The statistics were confirmation that the outcomes for drug users ‘not engaged in treatment or care’ were becoming ‘increasingly concerning’ added chair of the National Forum on Drug-Related Deaths, Roy Robertson.

‘Older drug users are most susceptible because their often frail health cannot sustain a life of poly-substance misuse, including alcohol use, and injecting-related problems,’ he said. ‘Although the final mechanism of death may be recorded as an overdose, years of high-risk drug use, blood-borne virus infections, smoking and alcohol consumption combine to increase their vulnerability. Stigma, a life course of traumatic experiences, social exclusion and feeling the brunt of austerity leaves many pursuing a risky, hopeless existence, often extinguished ultimately by suffering a drug-related death.’

Drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2014 at www.nrscotland.gov.uk