Drugs-related deaths in Scotland reach record high

Drugs deaths in Scotland have doubled in a decade and rose 23% last year.

Drugs deaths in Scotland have hit a record high after rising 23% in a single year.

There were 867 in 2016, up from 706 in 2015 and double the number recorded a decade ago.

The latest figures were revealed on Tuesday by National Records of Scotland (NTS).

Scottish Drugs Forum chief executive Dave Liddell branded the situation a “national tragedy” and called for a “fundamental rethink” of Scotland’s attitude to drugs.


“Fatal drug overdose deaths are personal tragedies for the individuals and their families, and clearly of a scale which is a national tragedy that requires a fundamental rethink of our approach,” he said.

“Other countries have achieved a reduction in overdose deaths by ensuring that people are appropriately retained in high-quality treatment and we must aspire to do the same.”

The rate of drugs deaths in Scotland per head of population is around two and a half times that of the UK as a whole.

Opioids like heroin, morphine and methadone were implicated in 765 deaths last year, while 176 involved cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamines such as speed.


The majority of fatalities involved more than one drug and alcohol was also a factor, implicated in about one in ten fatalities. Heroin and morphine contributed to more deaths in 2016 than in any previous year.

The number in which new psychoactive substances – better known as legal highs – were implicated soared to 286, up from 74 in 2015.

Public health minister Aileen Campbell said: “We are dealing with a very complex problem in Scotland – a legacy of drugs misuse stretching back decades.

“What we are seeing is an ageing group of people who are long-term drugs users. They have a pattern of addiction which is very difficult to break, and they have developed other chronic medical conditions as a result of this prolonged drugs use.

“Unfortunately, there is a general trend of increasing drug-related deaths across the UK and in many other parts of Europe.”

The rate of drugs deaths in Scotland is “well above” that of “most if not all” EU countries, according to NTS.

“There are no easy solutions but we recognise that more needs to be done,” Campbell added.


About 76% of people who died last year were aged 35 or older. The average age was 41.

About 30% of deaths were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS board area, 15% in Lothian and 13% in Lanarkshire.

The Scottish Conservatives said the government must “urgently embark” on a new drugs strategy.

Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “These figures are nothing short of appalling.

“Every year hundreds of lives in Scotland are being wasted because of a drugs culture that’s been allowed to escalate out of control.”

“These statistics must serve as an abrupt wake-up call for the SNP,” he added.

Scottish Labour inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon urged the Scottish Government to “take a different course”.

“SNP Ministers need to give themselves a shake and take responsibility for their actions,” she said.

“If you underfund vital substance misuse services people die. I urge the SNP Government to have the courage to take a different course.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton described the figures as “shocking”, while Scottish Greens spokeswoman Alison Johnstone said Scotland was moving in the “wrong direction” on addiction.

NTS has recorded figures on drugs-related deaths in their current format since 1996.

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