Scots drug-related deaths down from record highs

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The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland fell by 9 per cent last year, according to figures from the Scottish Government, with deaths among under-25s the lowest since records began.

There were 526 drug-related deaths registered in Scotland in 2013, 68 per cent of which were among people aged 35 and over. The country recorded its highest ever number of drug deaths in 2011 (DDN, September 2012, page 4) when 584 people died, and just three fewer the following year (DDN, September 2103, page 5). Three quarters of the 2013 deaths were among men, and in more than 90 per cent of cases people had taken more than one drug.

The hope was that the increases in deaths in previous years had ‘now come to an end’, said community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham. ‘These statistics are a product of a long legacy of drug misuse among older users. We are clear that one death is one too many, and that’s why we are funding the Scottish Drugs Forum to work with older users and why almost 4,000 naloxone kits were issued through our prevention programme to people at risk of overdose in 2012-13, potentially saving more than 350 lives. We know we face a tough challenge, but there are signs our approach is working. Drug taking in the general adult population is falling, and far fewer young people are taking drugs than ever before.’

The number of deaths where new psychoactive substances (NPS) were present, however, rose from 47 in 2012 to 113, including 60 deaths where NPS were implicated – albeit along with other substances in all but five of the cases. The Scottish Government recently published its New psychoactive substances – evidence review and has committed to further research to address gaps in knowledge.

‘NPS may be cheaper than known illegal drugs and we are aware of people using them across different age ranges and social groups,’ said service delivery manager at Edinburgh-based Crew 2000, Emma Crawshaw. ‘People who haven’t used drugs before are at risk if they do not have experience or credible information.’

As DDN went to press, ONS figures revealed that the level of drug poisoning deaths – from both legal and illegal drugs – in England and Wales was 2,995 in 2013, the highest since 2001. Full details in October’s issue.

Drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2013 at www.gro-scotland.gov.uk

New psychoactive substances – evidence review at www.scotland.gov.uk