Drug fatalities leap 37% with at least one death every day
SCOTLAND'S death toll from drugs has reached record levels and there is no sign of any slowdown.
Official figures published yesterday show a 37 per cent rise in the number of addicts killed by drugs last year and a 7 per cent rise in the number of deaths among recreational users.
The total number of drug deaths - 421 - was 10 per cent above the highest previously recorded total of 382 in 2002, and is equivalent to more than one death per day.
Experts and politicians called for a radical overhaul of Scotland's drug policies in the wake of the figures from the Registrar General for Scotland.
Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, admitted that the report was "extremely concerning" and promised a fresh look at the drugs issue.
A total of 280 addicts were killed by their habit in Scotland in 2006, a rise of 76 on 2005, and another 141 people, who were not drug dependent, died from overdoses - a rise of nine on the previous year.
Particularly worrying is the rate at which drug addicts are now dying compared to the situation just ten years ago.
In 1996, there were 244 drugs deaths in all categories, of which 175 were addicts.
The authorities will also have been alarmed by the continuing rise of deaths involving hard drugs. In 1996, heroin and morphine were involved in just 84 deaths. By last year, these drugs were involved in 260 deaths - a new record.
But there has also been a steady rise in fatalities involving other drugs. Methadone was involved in 97 deaths last year and diazepam in 78.
Cocaine and ecstasy were involved in 33 and 13 deaths respectively, but in many cases drugs were found in combination - 19 of the 33 cocaine deaths also involved heroin, morphine or methadone.
David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said the rising death rate reflected the cross-generational nature of drug dependency today.
He said: "We have a wide range of people with a drug problem now, including people in their fifties. These people have been using for 20 years or more and their health has potentially been significantly damaged - possibly with hepatitis C or with liver damage".
Mr Liddell said that the only effective way to tackle the problem was with a "step change" in the amount of money being invested in rehabilitation and other services for addicts.
He said: "We are spending maybe 1,000 to 2,000 on drug treatment for each individual. We need to spend between 7,000 and 10,000.
"We need to provide people with an incentive, to support and encourage them and show them there is a life worth living beyond drug use."
Tom Wood, the chairman of the Scottish Association of Drug and Alcohol Action Teams, said the future was bleak, for the short term, because of the large number of people with long-running addictions.
He said: "Hardly any of these people are dying because of what they did on the day they died; they are dying because they have been living that way for the last ten, 15 or even 20 years."
But Mr Wood said there was now some evidence that 14- and 15-year-olds were making "much more mature" choices about drugs and that gave a "glimmer of hope" for the future. He added that drug action teams were getting better at targeting those most at risk now, which he also hoped would save lives.
Some 162 of the deaths, or 38 per cent of the overall total, were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area.
This was an increase of 51 on 2005 - but Grampian's total death toll more than doubled, from 23 to 47.
Lothian, however, saw a reduction in its annual total from 57 to 46.
The national figures also showed there had been a sharp fall in the number of deaths linked to temazepam, and while the number of deaths involving cocaine rose to a high of 44 in 2005, it fell back last year to 33.
Ecstasy was involved in 13 deaths last year, compared with ten the previous year and 20 in both 2001 and 2002.
Mr MacAskill called drug abuse "perhaps the most significant social problem of our time".
"We need to improve access to effective treatment and care and get better at educating our young people about the dangers of drug misuse, providing support and protection for those affected by their parents' habits," he said.
"Our new strategy must tackle demand as well as supply and we will place renewed focus on education, tough enforcement, and a new emphasis on diversion and prevention by offering more young people opportunities in sports and the arts to build self-esteem."
The Conservatives called the figures "deeply depressing and chilling", and the Scottish Tory leader, Annabel Goldie, demanded a better approach to rehabilitation.
She said: "We need a clearer strategy which rehabilitates those caught up in a life of drugs and helps them on the way to abstinence, whilst at the same time adopting a zero-tolerance attitude to drugs and especially towards drug dealers."
The Lib Dem health spokesman, Ross Finnie, said: "For those who use drugs, we need more early intervention to help them get off the habit. There also needs to be a renewed effort against dealers, large and small, to get them off our streets."
And Hugh Henry, for Labour, said: "These figures paint a disturbing picture and it is clear measures already in place are not addressing all the issues. If the issue is about more resources then Labour will back the Executive if it wants to make more money available.
"But I suspect this is about more than just money and what is really needed is a radical rethink by experts in the field. Every drug death is a needless loss and a tragedy to that person's family."
STEPHANIE, PRECIOUS DAUGHTER AND MUCH-LOVED SISTER AND FRIEND, TAKEN BY LETHAL OVERDOSE AT 15
THE death notice published in a local newspaper described her as "the most precious daughter", a "much-loved sister" and a "friend of many".
They are words that summed up 15-year-old Stephanie Dyker whose likeable nature made her a popular pupil at Aberdeen's Torry Academy.
But clouds began to appear on her horizon when she started dabbling with drugs.
Within months, she became one of the youngest Scots to die from an overdose after succumbing to a deadly cocktail of substances taken at a flat in April last year.
Her mother, Gwen Hardie, said last night
: "My family has been devastated by this and it is something we will never get over. Stephanie was a lovely, beautiful person with her whole future in front of her and we miss her deeply."
The fourth-year pupil was described by one friend as a "beautiful, lovely girl". A typical effervescent teenager, she enjoyed dancing and cutting her friends' hair, and would regularly look in on her elderly neighbour.
It emerged that Stephanie had taken a lethal mix of opiates and benzodiazepines - prescription drugs such as Lithium or Valium.
A woman appeared in court in connection with her death but charges were dropped.
Ms Hardie said although it was too late to help her daughter she believed more should be done to prevent drug deaths. She added: "It is such a pointless waste of young lives. It's too late for Stephanie but I wouldn't want anyone else to go through what we have."
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