More than 1200 people died in Scotland last year as a result of drug misuse – the highest annual figure on record.
The total figure of 1264 is up 6% on the 1187 drugs-related deaths recorded in 2018.
It’s the worst rate in Europe and three-and-half times that of the UK as a whole in terms of the number of deaths per million people.
Nearly seven in every ten deaths in Scotland were men, while two-thirds were aged between 35 and 54 and more than half were linked to heroin and morphine.
More than 400 occurred in the Greater Glasgow health board area, with 163 in Lanarkshire, 155 in Lothian, 118 in Tayside and 108 in Ayrshire and Arran.
Two years ago, the Scottish Government declared the number of drugs deaths a “public health emergency”, however the annual tally has continued to escalate.
While drugs policy is reserved to the UK Government, health is devolved to Scotland and opposition parties at Holyrood blamed the new record on cuts to rehab and treatment services.
Scottish Conservative shadow health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “These statistics are both dreadful and heartbreaking in equal measure. Every one of these deaths is a tragic loss of life that could have been avoided.
“It is appalling that drug deaths have doubled in a decade, and there’s no doubt that this government’s cuts to drug rehab and addiction programmes have a large part to play in this awful trend.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton, health spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats said: “This news is tragic and will make for a difficult day for all those who lost a loved one last year. Lives are being lost on an unprecedented and unparalleled scale, and each of these people deserved better. There was nothing inevitable about their passing.
“Too often services simply aren’t there, either through a lack of resources or a lack of political will. It shouldn’t be left to ordinary people to take matters into their own hands and arrange the care, compassion and treatment others need.”
The results have been published by the National Records of Scotland six months later than planned after the pandemic caused delays in processing toxicology results.
The Scottish Government said it would continue to call on its UK counterpart to change the law to legalise supervised drug-taking facilities or give Holyrood the necessary powers, something it has repeatedly ruled out.
Scotland’s public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy.
“The Scottish Government is doing everything in its powers to tackle rising drug deaths and we are working urgently to put in place high-quality, person-centred services for those most at risk.”
FitzPatrick said the government and its partners were investing up to £93.5m this year to tackle problem alcohol and drug misuse.
He added: “These deaths stem from a long-standing and complex set of challenges, and there is no shortcut that will suddenly solve this.
“There is, however, action that we are taking right now that will have an impact more immediately, such as maximising the availability of Naloxone and the routes by which it can be supplied.
“Our work to introduce Medication Assisted Treatment standards is one of the most significant changes to the way in which treatment services operate.
“Furthermore, we have seen the introduction of a range of new and innovative approaches, including Scotland’s first heroin assisted treatment service in Glasgow.”
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