Shocking tally of drugs deaths: one victim a day
• Rise in deaths revealed after Executive pledges action to reduce drugs toll
• 63% of deaths involved opiates; four out of five deaths were men
• Highest ever figure of 382 drug-related deaths recorded in 2003
"I know that sometimes there is a lack of sympathy for the plight of drug addicts, but we will never forget our obligation to help save lives, to provide pathways into effective treatment, and to help get lives back on track. That is why later this year I will publish an action plan based on the recommendations that came out of the recently published investigation into drug-related deaths" - Drew Henry, Deputy Justice Minister
Story in full ONE person now dies from an overdose in Scotland every day, following a 12 per cent rise in drug-related deaths.
The number of lives lost to drugs last year totalled 356 - significantly up on the previous year's figure of 317.
The alarming rise was revealed by the Registrar General for Scotland just weeks after the deputy justice minister, Hugh Henry, pledged renewed action to reduce the toll of deaths from drugs.
When 291 drug-related deaths were recorded in 1999, the Executive set a target to cut the number by 25 per cent over five years, but it has never fallen below that figure since.
Mr Henry ordered an unprecedented study into the circumstances of each drug death in 2003 after a record 382 fatalities the previous year.
The figure fell in 2003, but with yesterday's confirmation of another rise, the minister renewed his pledge of a fresh action plan later this year.
Increased training and education on how to avoid and respond to overdoses is planned after a study found that relatively simple steps, including prompt emergency calls or even first aid, may have saved lives in 2003.
The Executive is already funding first-aid projects to train drug users, relatives, friends and service providers.
However, Mr Henry said he was taking "little comfort" from police reports that the figure for this year may fall below that for 2004. He said: "The [2003-04] increase is disappointing - not because it looks bad on a graph but because it represents the human misery and loss we need to work together to reduce.
"I know that sometimes there is a lack of sympathy for the plight of drug addicts, but we will never forget our obligation to help save lives, to provide pathways into effective treatment, and to help get lives back on track. That is why later this year I will publish an action plan based on the recommendations that came out of the recently published investigation into drug-related deaths."
Among the 356 people who died in Scotland in 2004, a total of 232 were known or suspected to be drug-dependent. Almost a quarter were aged under 25 and four out of five were men.
The proportion of deaths in which heroin or morphine was involved has continued to increase since 1996. These opiates were involved in 225 deaths in 2004, against 175 cases the previous year.
Alcohol was involved in 116 deaths, while diazepam was involved in 113 and methadone was involved in 80.
Cocaine was involved in 38 deaths - the highest annual figure for the drug in the nine years for which figures are given in the report - compared to 31 and 29 in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Ecstasy was involved in 17 deaths.
The Tories' justice spokeswoman, Margaret Mitchell, claimed the rise in drug-related deaths confirmed a "deepening drugs crisis" in Scotland.
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, while at the same time adopting a zero-tolerance attitude to drugs and drug dealers."
The SNP justice spokesman, Stewart Stevenson, said: "Families of addicts know that there is a breakthrough moment when their loved one is ready to turn away from a drug-dominated life. All too often, that chance to change is squandered by a lengthy wait for rehabilitative treatment to begin."
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