Drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2016

A total of 867 drug-related deaths were registered in Scotland in 2016, according to statistics published by the National Records of Scotland.

A total of 867 drug-related deaths were registered in Scotland in 2016, according to statistics published today by the National Records of Scotland.  This is the largest number in a series which starts at 1996, 161 (23 per cent) more than in 2015, and more than double the figure for 2006 (which was 421). 

The statistics also show that:

• Males accounted for 68 per cent of the drug-related deaths in 2016.
• In 2016, there were 327 drug-related deaths of people aged 35-44 (38 per cent of all drug-related deaths), 213 deaths of 45-54 year olds (25 per cent) and 199 drug-related deaths in the 25-34 age-group (23 per cent).
• The NHS Board areas which accounted for most of the 867 drug-related deaths in 2016 were:
o Greater Glasgow & Clyde – 257 (30 per cent);
o Lothian – 128 (15 per cent);
o Lanarkshire – 113 (13 per cent); and
o Ayrshire & Arran – 85 (10 per cent).

• Of the 867 drug-related deaths in 2016, opiates or opioids were implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 765 deaths (88 per cent of the total), including heroin and/or morphine in the case of 473 deaths (55 per cent) and methadone in the case of 362 deaths (42 per cent).   Benzodiazepines (e.g. diazepam and etizolam) were implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 426 deaths (49 per cent).  These figures are higher than in any previous year. 
• Scotland’s figures imply a drug-death rate (relative to the number of people aged 15 to 64) higher than those reported for all the EU countries (though there are issues of coding, coverage and under-reporting in some countries – see Annex G of the publication, which provides information about drug-death rates for other countries), and a drug-death rate (per head of population) that is roughly 2½ times that of the UK as a whole.

• Annex E of the publication provides information about deaths which involved so-called New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs), including their definition for the purposes of these figures.  On that basis, in 2016:
o There were 286 deaths in which NPSs were implicated, or potentially contributed to, the cause of death – but just four of them were believed to have been caused by NPSs alone;
o Almost all (281) of those deaths are included in the 867 drug-related deaths referred to earlier (they are counted under that definition either because the person had also taken a controlled substance or because the NPS itself was one).


The full publication, including figures for NHS Boards and local authority areas, is available from the National Records of Scotland website .        

The statistics were produced using a definition of “drug-related deaths” which was introduced in 2001 for the “baseline” figures for the UK Drugs Strategy. The definition was agreed by a working party set up following the publication of a report on “Reducing drug related deaths” by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and is described in detail in Annex A of the publication.

Of the 867 deaths, the numbers for which some other substances were implicated in, or contributed to, the cause were: cocaine – 123; ecstasy-type drugs – 28; amphetamines – 25; and alcohol – 112.

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