There was an 8 per cent fall in suspected drug deaths in Scotland in 2021, according to the latest quarterly figures. Provisional statistics from Police Scotland show that there were 1,295 deaths last year, compared to 1,411 in 2020.
The quarterly figures represent deaths that the police suspect to have involved illicit drugs, and are different from the official National Records of Scotland (NRS) statistics which are based on information from death certificates and forensic pathologists. Since late 2018 the Police Scotland figures have ranged between 3 and 6 per cent above the NRS figures, with the NRS total for 2020 recording 1,339 deaths.
As in previous years, men accounted for almost three quarters of the deaths, while almost two thirds were among people aged between 35 and 54. The number of deaths in under 25s fell by 20 compared to the previous year, while deaths in the last calendar quarter were 76 down on the same period in 2020.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on avoidable deaths, meanwhile, show that the age-standardised mortality rates for alcohol- and drug-related deaths in Scotland was 52.1 per 100,000 people in 2020, more than double the 24 per 100,100 rate in England. ‘Since 2012, avoidable rates from these causes increased by 63.3 per cent in Scotland,’ says ONS.
Despite the decline the death toll was ‘still far too high’, said drugs policy minister Angela Constance, with ‘much hard work to be done to turn this public health emergency around. Getting people into the treatment which works for them is key and we continue to embed the new medication-assisted treatment (MAT) standards which reinforce a rights-based approach for people who use drugs and the treatment they should expect regardless of their circumstances. We also aim to increase the number of publicly funded residential rehabilitation placements by more than 300 per cent over the lifetime of this Parliament and I will also shortly be announcing a target to increase the number of people in treatment.’
There had been a slight increase in the number of deaths among women, she added, with the government committed to tackling the barriers that prevented them from accessing treatment. ‘One of our priorities is to develop and increase women-specific services, and services to keep children and families together. I am determined that the £250m we are investing in tackling this public health emergency will make a difference and we will continue to prioritise our efforts to turn this crisis around.’
A recent report from Audit Scotland, however, concluded that delivery of Scotland’s drug and alcohol services remains complex, with unclear accountability and difficulties in assessing the effectiveness of the money being spent, despite the government’s pledge to invest £250m over five years. (www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/clear-plan-needed-to-improve-complex-scottish-services). Drug and alcohol data was ‘not good enough’, said auditor general Stephen Boyle, with a lack of transparency and the need for a ‘clear plan’ to improve service provision.
Suspected drug deaths in Scotland: October to December 2021 at www.gov.scot – read it here
Avoidable mortality in Great Britain: 2020 at www.ons.gov.uk – read it here