Scotland drug deaths rate decreases - but remains higher than the rest of Europe

ITV News' Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith has the latest on Scotland's drug death rate, which remains higher than the rest of Europe

Scotland's drug death rate has decreased to its the lowest level since 2017, but it still remains higher than the rest of Europe.

In 2022, there was a decrease of 279 deaths between 2021 and 2022 in Scotland, according to new data from National Records of Scotland (NRS).

Some 1,051 drug misuse deaths were registered in Scotland in 2022 - a 21% decrease compared to 2021 - the largest year-on-year decrease on record.

But Scotland still has the highest number of deaths per thousand in the UK and Europe.

The amount of drug poisoning deaths in Scotland in 2021 stood at 27.1 per 100,000 people - almost triple the UK figure of 10.

Scotland’s drug deaths are almost always related to ‘polydrug use’ - people taking multiple substances throughout a day, as Peter Smith reported last week

The figure stands at 11.5 in Northern Ireland, 11.0 in Wales, and 8.3 in England.

Glasgow City and Dundee City had the highest rates of drug misuse deaths over the last five years while East Renfrewshire and Aberdeenshire had the lowest rates.

Opiates and opioids, including heroin, morphine and methadone, were implicated in more than eight out of 10 drug related deaths in 2022.

In the European Union, the death rate due to overdoses is estimated at 18.3 deaths per million in those aged 15 to 64 - in Scotland, it is 248.

Finland recorded the next highest number of drug deaths per million, with a figure of 79 in 2021, followed by data from Ireland in 2017 which stood at 73.

Jolene Crawford, whose cousin, Alan, died 15 years ago, said the recent announcement from the Scottish Government that it wanted to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use had given her family “hope for the first time”.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has already rejected the move, put forward by Holyrood ministers last month, saying it risked causing “untold damage”.

But Ms Crawford, speaking after new figures showed a record fall in Scottish drugs deaths, said the change could help “break the cycle of drugs and misery”.

Ms Crawford, a member of the campaign group Anyone’s Child, which is calling for changes to drugs laws, said, however, that Scotland was still the “drugs death capital of Europe”.

Speaking in the wake of the latest figures, she said: “Behind each number is a real person, who once had hopes and dreams – as did my cousin Alan.

“It’s been 15 years since his death and Scotland remains the drug death capital of Europe."

Despite the recent fall in Scotland's rate, drug misuse deaths are still much more common than they were in 2000.

After adjusting for age, there were 3.7 times as many drug misuse deaths in 2022 compared with 2000.

Alex Feis-Bryce, the CEO of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said while the fall in Scotland had been “hugely reassuring” drug deaths numbers were “still far too high”.

He added that “each one of these deaths is an avoidable tragedy” as he called for a “transformative approach to really reduce the deaths”.

Mr Feis-Bryce said: “Westminster must allow Scotland to pilot proven measures like overdose prevention centres where no one dies from overdoses, decriminalising people with drugs for their own use, like in Portugal, and exploring legal regulation of drugs to make the market safer.”

He urged all political parties to “urgently put aside point-scoring and come together to deliver a public health approach”.

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole Hamilton said that the “drug deaths crisis is a plague of the SNP’s own making”.

He criticised the Scottish Government for previous cuts to the budget for drugs services and added: “My party has been calling for the decriminalisation of drug misuse for years.

“If the Scottish Government is at last serious about reform in this area, this will take detailed work both here in Scotland and in partnership with colleagues across the UK and beyond.

“To finally turn a corner in this crisis, Scottish Liberal Democrats also want to see the immediate introduction of specialist drugs commissions, safe consumption rooms and greater support for both staff and services.”

Operations director of Abbeycare Rehab Centre, Liam Mehigan, earlier told Good Morning Britain the service is seeing increased levels of physical and mental health issues, an increase in referrals for cocaine use, and people experiencing difficulty accessing detoxification for benzodiazepine use.

He also said they are seeing high levels of polydrug use - people using more than one substance.

They are also seeing the emerging threat of synthetic opioids in the heroin supply.

"It's important to add that we still have less than 40% of people in this country in treatment," he said.

"And it's important that we continue to develop more crisis services, more stabilisation services, and more residential rehabilitation services."

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