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Figures underline scale of challenge.
Drug-related deaths in Scotland increased by 6% last year, according to official statistics.
National Records of Scotland figures show there were 1,264 deaths, an increase of 77 on 2018 and the highest figure on record. However, the increase last year was significantly lower than the 27% reported in 2018.
Responding to the statistics, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick acknowledged the scale of the public health challenge. Along with its partners, the Scottish Government is taking a range of steps to alleviate the problem of substance misuse, and to reduce the number of deaths. These include:
- up to £95.3 million invested this year to tackle problem alcohol and drug use
- a significant increase in the roll-out of Naloxone – a medicine that can temporarily reverse the effect of opioids in the event of an overdose
- the Drug Deaths Taskforce, established last year, continuing its urgent work to tackle the rising number of drug deaths in Scotland. This includes a new sub-group to look in detail at the issue of benzodiazepines
- investment of £900,000 to fund a new programme to improve the response to drug and alcohol use among the homeless population
- continuing to push for action in relation to matters reserved to the UK Government, including the legalisation of overdose prevention facilities and restrictions on the sale and availability of pill-press machines
Mr FitzPatrick said:
“Each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy and I would like to offer my condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of those who have lost their lives.
“The Scottish Government is doing everything in its powers to tackle rising drug deaths, and we are working urgently to put in place high-quality, person-centred services for those most at risk. The Drug Deaths Taskforce’s Forward Plan outlines the longer-term interventions we’re putting in place to tackle this problem. Significant progress has also been made in meeting the commitments set out in our alcohol and drug strategy – for example the new Residential Rehabilitation Working Group is continuing its work to ensure access to residential rehabilitation services for everyone who needs them.
“These deaths stem from a longstanding and complex set of challenges, and there is no shortcut that will suddenly solve this. There is, however, action that we are taking right now that will have an impact more immediately, such as maximising the availability of Naloxone and the routes by which it can be supplied. Our work to introduce Medication Assisted Treatment standards is one of the most significant changes to the way in which treatment services operate. Furthermore, we have seen the introduction of a range of new and innovative approaches, including Scotland’s first heroin assisted treatment service in Glasgow.
“We will continue to work with the Taskforce and other partners to identify and put in place measures to tackle this issue and save lives. We also continue to urge the UK Government to take action 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.”
Professor Catriona Matheson, Chair of the Drug Deaths Taskforce, said:
“The Taskforce members give their sympathy and thoughts to everyone affected by the loss and personal tragedy that the figures represent. 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. I would encourage everyone to look at our website and learn more about the work we do.”
Read the full National Records of Scotland publication, Drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2019
This month the Drugs Deaths Taskforce published a Forward Plan outlining actions it will take over the next two years, such as bringing in national standards for Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), which uses licensed medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, and continuing to improve public health surveillance to better equip us with the information needed to tackle this crisis.