Scotland sees record fall in annual drugs deaths, figures show

Drugs policy minister Elena Whitham welcomed the decrease in 2022 but said there were still too many people dying from drugs.

Scotland has seen its largest ever fall in drugs deaths, figures have revealed.

Data from National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed there were a total of 1,051 deaths due to drug misuse in 2022 – a drop of 279 on the previous year.

It is the second year in a row that drugs deaths have fallen – although the total for 2021 dropped by just nine from the record high seen in 2020, when 1,339 people died.

The data also showed the rate of “drug poisoning deaths” in Scotland in 2021 – the most recent year for which comparisons are available –  was 2.7 times higher than average for the UK.

And while the number of deaths linked to drugs misuse is now at the lowest it has been since 2017, the NRS report made clear that the rate of deaths is still “much higher” than it was when recording the data began in 1996.

It found that “after adjusting for age, there were 3.7 times as many drug misuse deaths in 2022 as in 2000”.

According to the data, Scotland had 19.8 drug misuse deaths for every 100,000 people in the country in 2022 – with this rate down from 25 in 2021.

Death rates were almost 16 times higher in the most deprived parts of the country, at 52.4 per 100,000 people, compared to 3,3 per 100,000 in the most affluent areas.

The Glasgow City Council area had the highest rate of drug misuse deaths over the period 2018 to 2022, at 44.4 deaths per 100,000 people, with this closely followed by Dundee City, where the rate was 43.1.

In contrast, in East Renfrewshire, the drugs death rate was 9.5 per 100,000 people and was 11.1 in Aberdeenshire.

Opiods, such as heroin and methadone, were involved in 867 (82%) of the deaths in 2022, the data showed

Meanwhile, benzodiazepines – such as diazepam – were implicated in 601 deaths, while cocaine was involved in 371 fatalities.

And there were 476 drug misuse deaths where controlled, new, psychoactive substances were implicated, with some deaths having involved more than one type of drug.

Drug policy minister Elena Whitham welcomed the fall in deaths, though she stressed: “My sympathy goes out to all those affected by the loss of a loved one through drugs.

“While I am pleased to see that hundreds of families have been spared this agony and lives have been saved, every life lost is a tragedy and the number of deaths is still too high.”

Minisetrs will “never underestimate the scale of the challenge we continue to face, including responding to new threats such as synthetic opioids and stimulant use”.

But speaking on a visit to the Back on the Road project in Glasgow, which helps those who have suffered addiction into work, she said 300 such grass roots initiatives had been supported by the Scottish Government.

Ms Whitham added: “As part of our £250 million National Mission on drugs, we’ll continue to focus on getting more people into the form of treatment and support they need, expand access to residential rehabilitation and drive the rollout of life-saving medication assisted treatment (MAT) standards where we are making significant progress.”

However, she also said the UK Government “could do more to work with us to help introduce harm reduction measures”.

The Scottish Government has been pressing for a safe consumption facility to be set up, with efforts on this having so far been blocked by Westminster.

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