SCOTLAND remains the drug deaths capital of Europe after new statistics revealed 1,339 Scots died from drug misuse in 2020 – the highest annual total since records began in 1996.
Statistics from the National Records of Scotland (NRS), published today, show a 5% increase from 2019, when 1,264 Scots died as a result of drug misuse.
The data means Scotland continues to have a drug deaths rate more than three and a half times greater than the UK as a whole and higher than any other European country – with 21.2 deaths per 1,000 of the population.
More than 10,000 people have now lost their lives to drugs since the SNP came to power.
The SNP’s Drugs Policy Minister, Angela Constance, has described the increase in drug-related deaths as “heart-breaking” and confirmed data on suspected drug deaths in Scotland will now be published quarterly.
The number of Scots dying as a result of drugs misuse has increased substantially over the last 20 years – there were four and a half times as many deaths in 2020 as in 2000.
The latest statistics show men were 2.7 times as likely to have a drug-related death than women, after adjusting for age. People in the most deprived parts of Scotland were 18 times as likely to die from a drug-related death as those in the least deprived.
Almost two thirds of all drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2020 were of people aged between 35 and 54. The average age of drug-related deaths has increased from 32 to 43 over the last 20 years.
Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the highest drug-related death rate of all health board areas, followed by Ayrshire and Arran and Tayside.
Opioids remained the number one cause of drug related death in Scotland in 2020. However, in a sign that more drug users are mixing substances, benzodiazepines – use of which has soared in recent years due to easy availability – were implicated in 974 deaths in 2020.
Ms Constance 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.
“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.
“Of the £250 million announced over the next five years, £100 million will go on improving the provision of residential rehabilitation and I will update Parliament on progress in this area after the summer recess.
“As I have said before, I am determined that every penny of this additional funding will make a difference to all those affected by drug use in Scotland.”
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.
“We will also continue to argue for reform of drugs law, which is not currently within our power.”
Alan Ferrier, NRS’s head of demographic statistics, said: “Sadly, last year saw the highest number of drug-related deaths in Scotland since reporting began 25 years ago, and 59 more deaths than were registered in 2019.
“At the beginning of the century, the rate of drug-related deaths in Scotland’s most deprived areas was 10 times that of our least deprived areas. By 2020 this gap had increased to 18 times as high.”