Scotland Drug Deaths: 1,339 drug-related deaths were registered in Scotland, the highest number since records began

The latest data on drug related deaths has been released by the National Records of Scotland showing the highest number since records began.

Scotland’s drug deaths rose to a record 1,339 in 2020, the seventh time in a row that the number has risen.

The country continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe, with 21.2 deaths per 1,000 of the population, more than three-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK.

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Glasgow was again found to be the worst area for people struggling with addiction, with 291 dying last year in the city.

Scotland’s drug deaths rose to a record 1,339 in 2020, the seventh time in a row that the number has risen. Picture: JPIMedia

Men were also 2.7 times more likely to die from drugs than women last year, with 973 deaths compared with 366 female victims.

Deprivation continued to be a major factor in drug deaths, with those in the poorest areas of the country 18 times more likely to die than their more affluent counterparts, the data showed.

Government funding

Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance said: “Once again, the statistics on drug-related deaths are heart-breaking. I want to offer my sincere condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one through drug use.

Scotland Drug Deaths: 1,339 drug-related deaths were registered in Scotland, the highest number since records began

“We need to gather as much information as we can about drug use in Scotland and to that end, data on suspected drug deaths will be published quarterly from this September. This will ensure we can react more quickly and effectively to this crisis and identify any emerging trends.

“We are working hard to get more people into the treatment that works for them as quickly as possible.

"Without treatment, there is little hope of recovery so we are funding as many community and third sector initiatives as we can so that individuals have the widest possible choice and can opt for the support which suits them and their family.

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“Of the £250 million announced over the next five years, £100 million will go on improving the provision of residential rehabilitation and I will update Parliament on progress in this area after the summer recess.

“As I have said before, I am determined that every penny of this additional funding will make a difference to all those affected by drug use in Scotland.”

What can Scotland do?

Drug Deaths Taskforce Chair Professor Catriona Matheson added:“Every drug-related death in Scotland is an avoidable tragedy, and these figures serve to remind us of the importance and urgency of our mission to identify the areas of action that can make a sustainable impact against the challenge.

“We believe the approach of putting evidence into action has saved lives, and we will analyse the detail behind the headlines and look to build upon those areas showing progress and to address those areas requiring more attention.

“Both the causes of, and the solutions to, the challenge we all face are complex, at its heart are real people at real risk, and we continue to be determined to make difference for them.”

Opioids remained the number one cause of drug related death in Scotland in 2020, new figures show.

Data released by National Records of Scotland on Friday shows that, of the 1,339 people who died from drugs last year, 1,192 were related in some way to opioids.

However, in a sign that more drug users are mixing substances, benzodiazepines - use of which has soared in recent years due to easy availability - were implicated in 974 deaths in 2020.

Nicola Sturgeon Reacts

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “The number of lives lost to drugs is unacceptable, each one a human tragedy.

“@scotgov does not shirk the responsibility and we are determined to make changes that will save lives.

"These 2020 figures (though no less shameful because of it) predate actions set out at start of year.

"We now have a dedicated drugs minister in @AConstanceSNP, a substantial funding commitment and action underway to eg ensure faster access to community support, treatment and rehab.

"We will also continue to argue for reform of drugs law, which is not currently within our power.

“Today, my thoughts are with every family who has lost a loved one - I am sorry for the loss you have suffered.

"However, I know that from @scotgov what is required isn’t words, but action to prevent people dying, and that is what we are determined to deliver.”

Andrew Horne, director of the drug, alcohol and mental health charity With You, said: "With You remains concerned and saddened by the tragic and continual increase in the numbers of lives lost due to problems with drugs.

"Every drug-related death is preventable, and each death has a huge impact on families and communities, continuing to be felt years down the line.

"We have a mountain to climb to reverse these alarming figures but with the recently strengthened commitment and decisive action now being taken, we are hopeful that change is possible.”

Political Reaction

Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Douglas Ross said: “These latest statistics are horrifying and heartbreaking. Behind every number is a lost loved one and a broken family.

“These shocking figures alone cannot capture the agony, pain and devastation that the drugs crisis is causing in communities across Scotland.

“The drugs crisis is our national shame. It is a stain on Scotland that so many of our most vulnerable people have been left without hope, crushed by a system that is thoroughly broken.

“This is not a day for political posturing but it is a simple fact that the government’s small steps are not cutting it.”

Scottish Greens health and social care spokesperson Gillian Mackay MSP said: “Today’s tragic figures are yet another reminder of the devastating impact of drug misuse has on communities in Scotland.

“The approach to drugs, pursued by both the UK and Scottish governments, must change.

"It’s long past time we treated this crisis as the public health emergency that it is.

"It is time for an approach which focuses on restoring people’s dignity and treating their addiction, rather than criminalising them.”

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