Drug-related deaths in Scotland rise to a record high

New figures show that the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland has increased substantially over the last 20 years.

1,339 drug-related deaths were registered in 2020, an increase of 5% from 2019, according to statistics published by National Records of Scotland.

22 drug-related fatalities were recorded over the last year in Dumfries and Galloway, the second-highest annual death toll in the past decade. 

The statistics also show that the average number of drug-related deaths across Dumfries and Galloway between 2006 and 2010 was 8, nearly trebling to an average of 23 between 2016 and 2020. 

Some of those working to support addicts have said that this is a problem that is not going away.

Professor Jonathan Chick, Medical Director at Castle Craig Hospital said: "There has been an underfunding or lack of interest in abstinence-related treatment. We used to have a regular flow of social services and NHS patients, these referrals have dwindled.

"There should be less red tape, less difficulty for drug or alcohol worker and his patient to get started on such a programme."

Dumfriesshire MSP Oliver Mundell is calling on the Scottish Government to give a greater focus to funding recovery services in the community and to write into law a right to necessary addiction treatment. 

He said: "We urgently need decisive action from the Scottish Government to get to grips with this tragic situation. 

 "That’s why it is so important to communities here in Dumfries and Galloway, and across the whole of Scotland, that Scottish Ministers take the radical steps needed to invest more in local rehab facilities and make sure that those who need access to addiction treatment get it when they need it."

What work is NHS Borders doing to help prevent drug-related deaths?

  • Training events on risk factors related to drug-deaths, coordinated by the Alcohol & Drugs Partnership (ADP).

  • Work to ensure that there is fast access to treatment. 

  • In Quarter 4 2020-21, 80% of people started Opiate Substitute Treatment (OST) on the same day as the initial assessment and 100% started OST between 1-7 calendar days.

  • Increased the proportion of the population of people with drug problems in treatment to 83% treatment, in comparison to 75% in the previous year.

  • Extending provision of take-home naloxone (medication to temporarily reverse the effects of an opiate overdose) through training in overdose prevention and naloxone for staff in non-drug treatment services and community pharmacies.

  • Reviewing the circumstances of each drug-related death.

What do the findings published by National Records of Scotland show?

The average age of drug-related deaths has also increased from 32 to 43 over the last 20 years.

Alan Ferrier, 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.”

Scotland’s drug-death rate continues to be over 3½ times that for the UK as a whole, and higher than that of any European country.

What support is there for individuals and families affected by drugs and alcohol in the Scottish Borders?

 There are three direct drug and alcohol services that work across the Borders.  All agencies accept self-referrals or direct referrals from agencies. They are:

  • We Are With You: Support to anyone 16 years and over, concerned about their own drug or alcohol use or someone else’s - 01896 757843.

  •  NHS Borders Addictions Service: Support to anyone 16 years and over with drug/alcohol dependency and physical/mental health needs - 01896 664430.

  • Chimes, Action for Children: Support to children and young people affected by parental alcohol and/or drug use, as well as for parents and expectant parents experiencing alcohol / drug use which is impacting on their children - 01896 750173.

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