Scotland drug deaths reach new record level

30 July 2021, 23:43 | Updated: 30 July 2021, 23:45

Scotland has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe
Scotland has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland has reached a new record level after figures showed they had increased for the seventh consecutive year.

A total of 1,339 drug-related deaths were recorded in Scotland last year, an increase of 5 per cent on the previous year and meaning the country continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe.

"The loss of life is immense and this loss of life is heartbreaking and utterly unacceptable," said Minister for Drugs Policy Angela Constance, speaking to LBC.

"As well as offering my condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one I also state my commitment to continue to do everything possible in our national mission to save and improve lives by getting more of our people into the treatment that they need and deserve."

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The data from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) shows that Scotland had 21.2 drug-related deaths per 100,000 of the population - more than three-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK.

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

At a protest held there on Friday, people gathered to share their stories of addiction, with one man saying: "Communities are being decimated. I've been to maybe two dozen funerals over the last three years, and that's not an exaggeration."

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"It's sad that we're now complicit in the increase in drug-related deaths," Natalie Logan Maclean, CEO of addiction charity Sisco, told LBC.

"We're all complicit, society is complicit, Scotland is complicit.

"We knew since 2019 the numbers were going to increase. We didn't make any radical change."

Attending the protest, Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: "Scotland is not just the drug death capital now of the United Kingdom but across the whole of the EU and we cannot simply have year after year more of these figures showing that an increased number of people are dying as a result of this, because every life lost is a life lost too soon and a family devastated."

Responding to the figures, Nicola Sturgeon said the number of lives lost "is unacceptable, each one a human tragedy".

The First Minister tweeted that the Scottish Government "does not shirk the responsibility & we are determined to make changes that will save lives".

She added: "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.

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"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."

Ms Constance described the statistics as "heart-breaking" as she announced plans to report drug deaths every quarter to inform the response to the crisis.

She 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.

"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.

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"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."

In response to last year's figures, which caused then-public health minister Joe FitzPatrick to resign, the Scottish Government announced a £250 million investment - £100 million of which would be for the improvement of residential rehab.