1,187 people lost their lives to a preventable fatal drug overdose in 2018

1,187 people tragically lost their lives to a preventable drug overdose in Scotland last year.

The statistics, published by National Records of Scotland, show the toll is 27% higher than 2017, and the highest since records began in 1996.

Key points of the report include:

  • Nearly three quarters of those who died last year were male (72%)
  • The vast majority of drug-related deaths – 1,021 – involved opioids, but a large number – 792 – had also taken pills such as diazepam and etizolam.
  • The 35-44 age group was associated with the most deaths (442), followed by those aged 45-54 (345).
  • The Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area had the highest number of deaths (394), followed by Lothian (152), Lanarkshire (130) and Tayside (109).

Of the 1,187 deaths, 86% involved heroin or other opioids and 47% of deaths involved methadone, which may or may not have been prescribed to the person.

The vast majority of deaths involved more than one substance.  (There were 7 methadone-only deaths and 10 cocaine-only deaths).

Scotland’s drug death rate is now nearly three times that of the UK as a whole, and is higher than that reported for any other EU country.

There were 3,756 deaths relating to drug poisoning in England and Wales in 2017, a rate of 66 deaths per million. The rate in Northern Ireland is about 75 per million, with 136 deaths in 2017. Scotland has now experienced 218 deaths per million people.

The following are significant factors in understanding these statistics:

  • Compared with the rest of the UK, Scotland has a high number of people with an opiate-based drug problem
  • Compared with the rest of the UK, Scotland has a low number of people in drug treatment – only 40% of people with a drug problem are in treatment
  • Waits for opioid substitution therapy are over six months in some areas of Scotland
  • In Scotland, a large proportion of people on opioid substitution therapy are on sub-optimal does of methadone or buprenorphine in contravention of clinical guidelines and recommendation of the World Health Organisation
  • Treatment retention rates in some areas are low, particularly for the most vulnerable and there is a lack of follow-up of people who drop out or are pushed out of services.

Click here to view the ‘Drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2018’ report

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