The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2019 increased by 6% on the previous year to 1,264 deaths, according to National Records of Scotland data.
Whilst the current figure is the highest on record — and more than double the figure recorded ten years ago — the Scottish government said that 2019’s increase was “significantly lower than the 27% reported in 2018”.
Males accounted for 69% of the nation’s drug-related deaths, and 68% of deaths were in those aged 35–54 years.
The rate of drug-related deaths in Scotland is higher than any EU country, and around 3.5 times higher than the UK as a whole. In July 2019, the cross-sector Drug Deaths Taskforce was established to address the problem.
Catriona Matheson, chair of the Drug Deaths Taskforce, said: “The 2019 rise reflects why the taskforce has been formed and adds urgency to our mission to identify an evidence-based strategy to tackle this problem and save lives as we do so.
“We are supporting over 100 partnership initiatives across Scotland and all our work comes from a place of kindness and compassion.”
Joe FitzPatrick, Scottish minister for public health, sport and wellbeing, said: “The Drug Deaths Taskforce’s forward plan outlines the longer-term interventions we’re putting in place to tackle this problem”, adding that “these deaths stem from a longstanding and complex set of challenges, and there is no shortcut that will suddenly solve this”.
However, FitzPatrick said that there is “action that we are taking right now that will have an impact more immediately”, including “Scotland’s first heroin-assisted treatment service in Glasgow”.
FitzPatrick also urged the UK government to “to change the law so that overdose prevention facilities can be established as quickly as possible, either by taking the necessary steps themselves or by devolving powers to Scotland”.