The figures relating to drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2016 have been published this morning (15th August) by the National Records of Scotland.
There was a record high number of 867 fatal drug overdoses in 2016, a 23% rise on the previous record high figure reported last year.
In Scotland, a drug-related death is defined as an overdose death involving controlled substances.
These deaths figures do not include those who have died as a consequence of drug use – for example people who have died as a result of consequences of hepatitis C infection or those who have died in drug-related circumstances, for example choking on their tongue or positional asphyxia.
Within the figures there are trends which are particularly concerning:
- A number of local authority areas in Scotland have seen their fatal overdose deaths double since 2015 and it will be important to see if there are specific problems in these areas that need to be addressed.
- In recent years the number of fatal overdose deaths in the under thirty fives has remained stable – 2016 saw a significant rise up from 193 in 2015 to 241.
- The biggest increase in overdose deaths has been seen in the 35-44 age group, increasing from 249 to 327. This suggests an increasing vulnerability in this group.
- Scotland’s drug-death rate (relative to the number of people aged 15 to 64) is higher than those reported for all the EU countries (though there are issues of coding, coverage and under-reporting in some countries), and Scotland’s drug-death rate (per head of population) is roughly two and half times that of the UK as a whole
David Liddell, Scottish Drugs Forum’s CEO, said: “This headline figure indicates the scale of the challenge Scotland faces in making an adequate response to the challenge of problem drug use.
“Fatal drug overdoses are personal tragedies for the individuals concerned and for their families and friends. These are clearly of a scale which is a national tragedy that requires a fundamental rethink of our approach. Other countries have achieved a reduction in overdose deaths by ensuring that people are appropriately retained in high-quality treatment and we must aspire to do the same.”
Scotland now faces a situation where the majority of those seeking help for a drug problem will be older (aged 35 plus) and will be more vulnerable due to multiple health issues. The figures released today show that 626 of the total 867 deaths were people over the age of 35. Scottish Drugs Forum recently published research which showed that this most vulnerable group are not held well in services at present.
In July, the Scottish Government announced The Road To Recovery, Scotland’s drug strategy, is to be refreshed. This should provide an opportunity to revaluate the current path of increasing drug-related deaths and explore new approaches such as adapting services to be better equipped to cope with increasing numbers of older people with a drug problem, alongside well-evidenced internationally, but new for Scotland, initiatives such as drug consumption rooms and heroin-assisted treatment.
David Liddell also stated: “The needs of drug users are no different from the needs of the rest of the population. And yet services struggle to deliver. ‘Why?’ The answer lies in the configuration of services, their resourcing and fundamentally in the stigma associated with drug use which impacts on services, the resources allocated to them and how these services work with other mainstream services including housing, employment and education and training.”