One in seven drug deaths from cocaine
ONE in seven drug-related deaths in Scotland involves cocaine, figures released yesterday show.
Statistics published by the Registrar General for Scotland confirmed that while the total number of drug deaths fell in 2005, those involving cocaine increased, as The Scotsman revealed yesterday.
Experts have predicted that cocaine could overtake heroin as Scotland's main problem drug within five years and the latest figures appear to support that prediction.
Across Scotland, 44 people died after taking cocaine last year, while deaths caused by all illegal drugs fell to 336, their lowest since 1998. In 2004, there were 356 drug deaths and 38 involving cocaine - one in every nine drug-related fatalities.
Heroin was responsible for the majority of the drug-related deaths, causing 58 per cent of the 336 fatalities. But the total of 194 is down from 2004, when it claimed the lives of 225 people.
The overall drop in the number of drugs deaths was welcomed by deputy justice minister Hugh Henry.
But he warned: "We cannot be complacent. As long as there are drugs on our streets then there is the potential for deaths to rise again. We must be relentless."
But opposition politicians attacked the Executive's anti-drugs strategy. The SNP called for more rehabilitation services for addicts while the Tories urged ministers to be tougher on those caught with drugs.
The number of deaths involving the heroin substitute methadone was down from 80 in 2004 to 72 last year, and the number of cases involving ecstasy also fell, from 17 to ten.
A third of all drug deaths were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board area. But the 111 deaths was a drop of 40 from the year before.
But, as The Scotsman reported yesterday, the number of fatal cases in the Lothian region increased by 21 to 57.
Of the 336 deaths last year, a total of 204 involved people who were known or suspected to be drug addicts.
More than three quarters of the victims were male, with only 23 per cent of the deaths being among women. But the number of women dying as a result of drugs rose from 67 in 2004 to 77 last year.
Of those who died, 14 per cent were aged under 25, while 83 per cent were less than 45 years old.
Mr Henry said: "Every death associated with drug misuse is a tragedy and reminds us that drug abuse is a blight on the lives of too many families and communities across Scotland."
He added: "We know that cocaine use has been growing in Scotland - and our hard-hitting advertising campaign sought to highlight the dangers of the drug."
Ministers are also working with pub bosses in Glasgow in a bid to find new ways to get the message about the drug across to those most at risk of using it.
Mr Henry also stressed the importance of teaching young people about the dangers of drugs, adding that 99 per cent of schools now provide drugs education.
And he said: "In addition to raising awareness about the dangers of drugs we are also investing record resources in drug treatment - 66.7 million in 2005-6."
The SNP's health spokeswoman, Shona Robison, said: "Drugs are a plague on our communities, which is why next year an SNP government will prioritise rehabilitation and counselling services for those with addictions and will tackle the root cause of many drugs addictions, social deprivation."
While the Scottish Conservatives leader, Annabel Goldie, welcomed the reduction in drug deaths she warned: "The war against drugs is far from won."
Miss Goldie said ministers had set the target of reducing fatalities to 218 or under by the end of 2004. And she added: "The 2005 total of 336 shows just how far off track they are."
She called for a clearer strategy to help rehabilitate addicts, while at the same time adopting a zero-tolerance approach to drugs, particularly dealers.
She said: "The Labour/Lib Dem Executive's response has been to talk about 'managing' the problem, not eradicating it.
"It would be charitable to say it has run up the white flag in the battle against drugs - whereas the sad truth is that it never even began the war."
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