Scotland's drug deaths rise to record high for seventh year in a row

Credit: ITV News

More people died from drugs in Scotland in 2020 than in any year since records began.

There were 1,339 drug-related deaths registered in the country last year, an increase of 5% from 2019.

This is the largest number of drug-related deaths since records began in 1996 and it continues a worrying upward trend, marking an increase for the seventh year in a row.

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 - and another 1,264 died in 2019.

It all means the country continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe, with 21.2 deaths per 1,000 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.

Responding to figures showing record drug deaths 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.”

More on Scotland's drug crisis

The figures show opioids remained the number one cause of drug related death in Scotland last year.

Of the 1,339 people who died, 1,192 were related in some way to opioids.

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.

Men were also 2.7 times more likely to die from drugs than women last year, with 973 deaths compared with 366 female victims.

Deprivation also continued to be a major factor in drug deaths, with those in the poorest areas of the country 18 times more likely to die than their more affluent counterparts, the data showed.

'I could walk around that corner and get them in two seconds'

In the north Glasgow town of Possil, one of the communities hardest hit by drugs and drug deaths, ITV News spoke to Cheryl, 43, and James, 57, both long-time drug users.

James said he has been trying to get into rehab for a year, but that he could get drugs "in two minutes" from around the corner.

He has lost two brothers to drugs, while Cheryl, who started using heroin at just 11 years old, was at her friend's funeral in the past week.

She says it is "not easy" to get kick the habit. She has been on methadone for almost 30 years and tops up with ‘street valium’ - the cheap pills that have flooded Scotland’s streets and are involved in so many deaths.

If you or someone you know if affected by the issues raised in this article, the following charities offer support:

  • Action of Addiction works across all areas of treatment, research, family support and professional education - 0300 330 0659

  • Frank offers confidential advice and information about drugs, their effects and the law - 0300 123 6600

  • Narcotics Anonymous offers support for anyone who wants to stop using drugs - 0300 999 1212

  • Release offers free and confidential advice about drugs and the law - 020 7324 2989 or email helpline:

  • We Are With You supports people with drug, alcohol or mental health problems, and their friends and family

  • People can also discuss addiction issues with their GP