Charity warns of 'failing a generation' as rate of drug-related hospital stays triples in 20 years

A Scottish charity has warned we are “failing a generation” as the rate of drug-related hospital stays triples in just over two decades.

From 1996/97 to 2018/19 the rate of hospital admissions per 100,000 people increased threefold from 73 to 260, according new statistics from Public Health Scotland.

David Liddell, CEO of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said there should be concern that “just as one group was failed in the past we are now failing another generation.”

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There has also been a recent sharp increase in drug-related stays of 75 per cent in the six years from 2012/13.

The data is taken from hospital administrative systems across NHS Scotland, and relate to all inpatient and day cases. Maternity, neonatal and geriatric long stays are not included, nor are visits to Accident and Emergency.

As the most recent data is from 2018/19, the figures do not reflect the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Liddell said: “These statistics reflect the reality of groups of people in Scotland. One is a group of people who have had a drug problem for many years and use combinations of drugs – principally opiates like heroin and benzodiazepines and, more recently cocaine.

"As they age their health problems are becoming more complex – they have the conditions associated with ageing and in many cases are developing these at a younger age than the rest of the population. For this group simple infections can become complicated and require a hospital stay.”

There has also been an increase in young people admitted to hospital for drug use. Patient rates for 15-24 year olds increase from 126 per 100,000 in 2012/13 to 206 in 2018/19.

In 2018/19, approximately half of the patients with a drug-related general acute or psychiatric hospital stay lived in the 20 per cent of most deprived areas in Scotland.

Mr Liddell added: “The second group is a group of younger people also involved in using combinations of substances – alcohol and benzodiazepines for example - who are involved in heavy if not dependent use. This group of people are vulnerable and have often experienced adversity in childhood.”

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"There should be concern that just as one group was failed in the past we are now failing another generation,” he said.

"A key issue remains, of course, how are children and families are supported and lifted from poverty and how vulnerable families are supported on a more consistent and sustained way over the long term."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Although these statistics pre-date the pandemic, they continue to show that drug and alcohol support must be maintained as priority services and we have ensured those at risk have access to these services throughout the current crisis.

They added: "Our drug death taskforce has continued to meet during the pandemic and has made a number of recommendations that were acted upon to mitigate harms from Covid-19-related service disruption and the potential impact on individuals.

"We want to ensure everyone who requires drug and alcohol treatment has access to it and our budget commits a further £20 million to reduce the harm caused by drugs. This means the total Scottish Government spend on drugs and alcohol in 2020-21 will be up to £95.3 million."

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