Suspected drug deaths in Scotland: January to March 2022

This report focusses on Police Scotland management information as a key indicator of recent drug death trends in Scotland.

Annex B: Additional information on data sources & methodology

Police Scotland suspected drug deaths

This data is sourced from management information from Police Scotland who compile figures on the basis of reports from police officers attending scenes of death. Classification as a suspected drug death is based on an officer's observations and initial enquiries at the scene of death. Police Scotland record information based on the Ministerial Drugs Task Force definition of a drug-related death, given in their 1994 report.

Police Scotland monitor suspected drug deaths to inform prevention and enforcement activity. In order to provide a consistent count over time, all deaths originally classified as a 'suspected drug death' are included here, irrespective of their eventual final categorisation of cause of death.

Police Scotland record a suspected drug death against the date on which the death was declared by a qualified medical expert. To give consistent time periods for comparison purposes, an adjustment of ten days (the median delay between the date of death and date of registration over the last five years) has been made when calculating the number of suspected drug deaths in a calendar year quarter. National Records of Scotland statistics use the date of registration of death.

Police Scotland consider the relevant circumstances which relate to all sudden and unexplained deaths. This informs Police Scotland's subsequent investigation and the official recording of the death as a suspected drug death. Police Scotland records the location of a suspected drug death using the division of where the death occurred, unless the person has been conveyed to a hospital in another division, in which case the death would be recorded as the location where they were found. Each of these locations will be in one of Police Scotland's thirteen territorial divisional boundaries.

Data validation is conducted by Police Scotland divisional drug death data controllers who confirm and cross-reference detail from the Police Scotland death report with subsequent pathology and toxicology reports.

Use of Management Information from Police Scotland

The Police Scotland data presented here is Management Information (MI) and should not be considered as National or Official Statistics. MI is information that is based on administrative data used for operational purposes. It is used in the normal course of business to inform operational activity, prevention and enforcement activity. Whilst any data used goes through a process of quality assurance, MI is not always subject to the same level of validation and checking as Official Statistics.

However, if used appropriately and with an awareness of the associated caveats, MI can still provide, in some instances, useful insight and intelligence to help inform the public and aid decision making and the development of policy and interventions.

For this publication, the Scottish Government and Police Scotland have agreed that, subject to the caveats on MI described above, it is appropriate to publish the Police Scotland MI data on suspected drug deaths as part of improving the data and information available on current trends in drug deaths in Scotland.

Section 5.3 of this report ('Relationship between Police Scotland suspected drug deaths and NRS drug-related deaths') explains how the Police Scotland MI used here correlates with the National Statistics produced by NRS.

NRS drug-related deaths

Full details of the data and methodology underlying NRS's drug-related death statistics can be found in the NRS 'Drug-related deaths in Scotland 2020 – Methodological Annexes'.

Correspondence and enquiries

For enquiries about this publication please contact:

Rachael Sinclair
Health & Social Care Analysis

For general enquiries about Scottish Government statistics please contact:
Office of the Chief Statistician

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