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Drug-related deaths in Scotland reach record high

In 2014, 613 people died in Scotland as result of drug use

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A total of 613 people died in drug-related deaths in Scotland last year - the highest figure ever recorded. The large increase this year follows falls in deaths during the two preceding years.

The report on drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2014 reveals that almost three-quarters of the deaths were in men and more than a third occurred in the 35-44 year old age group.

Opiates were involved in most deaths: heroin and or morphine were implicated in more than half of cases (309 deaths) and methadone was implicated in 214 deaths (35 per cent).

Benzodiazepines (e.g. diazepam) were implicated in 121 deaths (20 per cent); cocaine, ecstasy-type drugs and amphetamines were implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 45, 14 and 22 deaths respectively; and alcohol was implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 106 of the deaths.

The largest increase in number of deaths was for 35-44 year olds, the next largest was for people aged 45-54, and there was a fall in the number of drug-related deaths of people aged under 25.

Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse said: “Scotland still faces a huge challenge in tackling the damaging effects of long-term drug use among an aging cohort of individuals in Scotland. This group of individuals often have long-term, chronic health problems as a result of sustained and, in many cases, increasingly chaotic drug-use issues. Pin-pointing a cause of death is never easy, but is typically complex. We need to better understand the needs of particular sub-groups and to better understand what role the purity, or strength, of illicit drugs is playing in increasing fatalities.”

Roy Robertson, chair of the National Forum on Drug Related Deaths, said: “Older drug users are most susceptible because their often frail health cannot sustain a life of polysubstance misuse, including alcohol use, and injecting-related problems. Although the final mechanism of death may be recorded as an overdose, years of high risk drug use, blood borne virus infections, smoking and alcohol consumption combine to increase their vulnerability. Stigma, a life course of traumatic experiences, social exclusion and feeling the brunt of austerity leaves many pursuing a risky, hopeless existence, often extinguished ultimately by suffering a drug-related death.”

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