Scotland records highest level of drugs deaths in Europe

The Guardian, by Severin Carrell


Scottish ministers have been urged to heavily increase funding for drugs addicts after Scotland recorded the highest level of drugs deaths in Europe last year.

The latest figures showed a record number of 934 people died in Scotland as a direct result of drug overdoses, more than double the number a decade ago and two and a half times the rate UK-wide.

Nearly 70% of the deaths involved addicts aged over 35, confirming a trend of increasing deaths among long-term users, with opiates such as heroin and methadone implicated in 87% of fatalities.

The data again suggested addicts from the so-called “Trainspotting generation”, those who began using in the 1980s and 1990s, were overrepresented in the statistics. More than a third were older than 45, while the number of deaths among under-35s had remained relatively static by proportion.

Many died from a cocktail of substances, including sedatives and cocaine, and the data showed new synthetic psychoactive drugs were a significant contributor. They were implicated in 337 deaths.

Drugs workers and opposition parties said the data increased the case for a substantial investment and change in policy by ministers, whose long-awaited drugs strategy has still not been published a year after it was announced.

David Liddell, the chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum charity, said there was a stark comparison between the lack of investment in helping and treating addicts with the far greater sums spent on road safety. Drug death rates were five times higher than traffic fatalities.

Estimates suggest there are about 61,000 addicts in Scotland, many of whom have multiple health issues. Many died from causes other than overdose, which were still related to their addictions, but were not recorded in this data.

“The challenge with the terminology around the Trainspotting generation is you then get the notion this group are going to die off anyway, so why care. They are still relatively young,” Liddell said. “They are not beyond hope: the problem is that the services and responses just aren’t good enough. There’s the question of how much we value every life in Scotland.”

Joe Fitzpatrick, the recently appointed public health minister, issued a short statement saying ministers were doing all they could to prevent further deaths. He acknowledged existing services did not meet the needs of addicts.

He said the new drugs strategy would be “person-centred [so] that treatment and support services address people’s wider health and social needs, such as mental health, employability and homelessness.”

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, said the figures were “absolutely shocking”.

“The SNP government has slashed alcohol and drug partnership funding at a time when drug deaths were hitting record levels,” he said. “Ministers need to give themselves a shake and take responsibility for their actions. If you underfund vital substance misuse services people die.”