The number of drug addicts over the age of 35 seeking specialist treatment has risen by 24% in the past 12 years, new figures suggest.
NHS Scotland’s report shows the drug-related deaths problem is being driven by older addicts who have often been taking drugs for an extended period and suffer from underlying health problems, the Scottish Government said.
There were 1,187 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018.
In the 2006-07 financial year, 29% of people who were assessed for specialist drug treatment were over the age of 35. That figure had risen to 53% by 2018-19.
Treatment presentations for those aged between 25 and 34 dropped from 45% to 33%, while people under 25 represented 14%, down from 26%.
The average age of those assessed also rose, from 30 to 35 during the same period.
Following calls for action after the scale of Scotland’s drugs death problem was revealed last summer, the Scottish Government assembled a task force, headed by substance abuse expert Professor Catriona Matheson.
A summit was also held in Glasgow last week, one day before a similar conference in the same venue held by the UK Government.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “These latest figures reinforce the fact that the rise in drug-related deaths is predominantly being driven by people aged over 35 who also experience a range of other health and social issues, many as a result of their long term drug use.”
The figures also show a drop in the use of heroin among those who sought treatment and admitted to using drugs within the previous month, from 67% in 2006-07 to 44% in 2018-19 – although it was still recorded as the most used drug.
Since 2015-16, there has been an almost three-fold increase in the reported use of cocaine or crack cocaine, rising from 14% to 33%.
The report speculates the increase may be due to the availability and purity of the drug.
Cannabis and diazepam are the third and fourth most frequently reported drugs taken by users the month before they sought treatment, at 31% and 30% respectively.
The Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The data shows that drug trends are changing and it is important that services are able to adapt to meet the needs of those who are most at risk.
“We are taking urgent action to address the public health emergency which Scotland is facing in terms of drug deaths – including the setting up of a dedicated task force to help reduce the harms caused by drugs and save lives.
“In addition, we recently held a Scottish Drug Deaths Conference, which we organised jointly with Glasgow City Council so that we could hear about and learn from those with lived, living and front line experience of problem drug use.”
She added: “We also announced an additional £20m in funding for front-line services at the UK Drugs Summit.
“This will help deliver the recommendations of the taskforce, and provide investment for mental health support.
“It will also allow wider consideration to additional rehabilitation beds.”