Scotland sees highest number of drugs deaths in EU with almost 1,200 victims in a year

More than 1,100 people died from drugs in Scotland last year, new figures indicate, the worst level since records began.

There were 1,187 drug-related deaths registered in 2018 - above 1,000 for the first time and up 253 (27%) on the previous year.

The National Records of Scotland statistics indicate Scotland's drug death rate is nearly triple the UK rate and the highest in the European Union.

It is at its highest level since current records began in 1996 and more than double the 2008 figure of 574.

The health board area with the highest proportion of drug deaths in 2018 was Greater Glasgow and Clyde at 394 (33%).

  • Emily Morgan explains how the Scottish government might respond to the crisis

Deaths from opiates or opioids, such as heroin, morphine, or methadone, were implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 1,021 deaths.

For benzodiazepines such as diazepam and etizolam, this figure was 792.

Men accounted for the majority (72%) of the drug-related deaths. The 35-44 age group was associated with the most deaths at 442, followed by those aged 45-54 (345).

The Scottish government has vowed to get a grip on the spiralling number of deaths relating to drugs.

Scotland's Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said the country faces an "emergency" on this issue.

He said: "The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking.

"It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue, and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk."

  • Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick MSP speaks to ITV News about Scotland's drug problem

He said he asked for help in persuading the UK Government to either act now to enable Scotland to implement a range of public health focused responses - including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities - or devolve the power to the Scottish Parliament so that it could take action.

"I want to ensure that the work of the new taskforce which I have established is driven by strong evidence and the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are heard," he said.

"I am determined to shape our services in every walk of life to prevent harm and reduce the appalling number of deaths.

"So I will give consideration to any proposals they bring forward which may help to tackle this issue and, ultimately, save lives."

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Alison Thewliss, the MP for Glasgow Central, called on the UK government to do more tackle the root of drug-related illness.

She said opening a dedicated space where users could be monitored while they take drugs might reduce the number of deaths.

She said: "Some of the issues that we have in Scotland are around historic drug use, so people who have been using drugs for 20 or 30 years.

"What I would like to see is for Glasgow particularly, where there is a propsosal for a drug consumption room, is for the UK government to allow that proposal to go ahead.

"That acts as an early prevention, it gets people who are taking drugs somewhere to go where they will get medical support and get help."

She added: "The evidence from the figures is that people will continue to use drugs. People will continue to use drugs in an unsafe way, in bin shelters, of waste ground, in situations where they will come to harm."

  • ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith reported last month on the crisis that has gripped the nation

  • ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith talked to one drug user in June

  • What do the figures show?

From the 1,187 deaths, methadone - a synthetic opiate used as an alternative to heroin which is prescribed by doctors - was implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 560 deaths.

Heroin and/ or morphine were also implicated in, or potentially contributed to, the cause of 537 deaths (45 per cent of the total).

In total, 1,021 deaths were related to heroin or other opiates.

Benzodiazepines - a class of psychoactive drugs which includes anti-anxiety drugs - were involved in 575 drug deaths.

Most of the drug-related deaths are of people who took more than one substance. Just 68 of the 1,187 deaths where only one drug, and possibly alcohol, contributed or possibly contributed to the cause of death.

More than three people a day (3.25) die from drugs in 2018.

Of Scotland's estimated 5.4million population, there are around 58,900 problem drug-users in the country.