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30 July 2021

With You says rising drug death figures are tragic and preventable

Today the National Records of Scotland published new statistics showing the number of people who died of a drug related cause in the country during the calendar year of 2020.

The topline figures from the data are as follows:

  • There were 1,339 drug-related deaths, a 5% increase on the previous year and the largest number ever recorded.
  • Scotland’s drug-death rate was over 3½ times that for the UK as a whole, and higher than that of any European country.
  • Deaths have increased substantially over the last 20 years – there were 4.6 times as many deaths in 2020 compared with 2000.
  • 63% of all deaths were of people aged between 35 and 54, and the average age has increased from 32 to 43 over the last 20 years.
  • People in the most deprived areas were 18 times as likely to have a drug-related death as those in the least deprived areas. That ratio has almost doubled in 20 years.
  • In 93% of all drug-related deaths, more than one drug was found to be present in the body.
  • Of all drug-related deaths in 2020, opiates/opioids were implicated in 89% deaths, benzodiazepines in 73%, gabapentin and/or pregabalin in 37%, and cocaine in 34%.

Andrew Horne, Executive Director in Scotland for drug, alcohol and mental health charity, With You says:

"With You remains concerned and saddened by the tragic and continual increase in the numbers of lives lost due to problems with drugs. Every drug-related death is preventable, and each death has a huge impact on families and communities, continuing to be felt years down the line. Our thoughts are with the thousands of people who have lost a loved one in the past year.

"We have a mountain to climb to reverse these alarming figures but with the recently strengthened commitment and decisive action now being taken, we are hopeful that change is possible.

"New investment in outreach teams for people who have had a non-fatal overdose or who have dropped out of treatment marks a significant step forward, as does the improved support for people transitioning from prison into the community. Changes to enable quicker access to appointments and more choice over treatment, as standard across Scotland, are also positive.

"These figures are stark, but with new initiatives, clear standards and high expectations of services and partnership working, they can be brought down."