THE number of suspected drug deaths has fallen by 8 per cent compared to the same time last year but there is still “much hard work to be done”, the Scottish Government has said.

The latest quarterly report from Police Scotland on the amount of deaths caused by drug use during 2021 shows a fall of 116 on the previous year.

According to the force, there were 1295 deaths between January and December 2021, with the equivalent for 2020 at 1411 deaths.

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However, official statistics from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed the confirmed number of drug-related deaths was 1339 in 2020.

Police Scotland’s report, based on initial officer reports and scene of death investigations, have ranged between 3% and 6% above the NRS drug-related death figures since recording began in 2018.

The latest statistics show that men account for 73% of suspected drug deaths, a 3 percentage point drop compared to 2020. However, at the same time the number of women dying of suspected substance abuse has increased by 3% (11 deaths).

Over two-thirds (67%) of suspected drug deaths were of people aged between 35 and 54, while the number of deaths in the under 25 age group totalled 68 - 20 fewer (23%) than in 2020.

The National:

Family and friends of those lost to drugs deaths at a protest in Glasgow in 2021

In the last quarter (October - December 2021) there were 288 suspected drug deaths, three more than in the previous quarter (July-September 2021) and 76 fewer than during the same period last year.

Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the figures show the Scottish Government needs to “move faster”.

He said: “When it comes to drug-related deaths, Scotland is the worst in Europe. This is a crisis of international significance.

"It’s why I’ve called for a specialised WHO taskforce, made up of leading experts in drug mortality, to help get to grips this particularly Scottish epidemic.

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“Scotland clearly needs to go further and faster. We also need a watertight strategy focused on diverting people at risk into treatment and education instead of prison, fast access support for them and their families and accessible drug testing.”

Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance said that despite the decline in numbers “the figure is still far too high” and there is “much hard work to be done to turn this public health emergency around”.

She said: “Getting people into the treatment which works for them is key and we continue to embed the new Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) standards which reinforce a rights-based approach for people who use drugs and the treatment they should expect regardless of their circumstances.

The National:

Constance, above right, said there was still hard work to be done

“We also aim to increase the number of publicly funded residential rehabilitation placements by more than 300 per cent over the lifetime of this Parliament and I will also shortly be announcing a target to increase the number of people in treatment.”

Constance also addressed the rise in the number of women who died during 2021.

She added: “There has been a slight increase in the number of deaths among females and we are committed to tackling the barriers which prevent women from accessing treatment, support and recovery.

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“One of our priorities is to develop and increase women-specific services, and services to keep children and families together.

“I am determined that the £250 million we are investing in tackling this public health emergency will make a difference and we will continue to prioritise our efforts to turn this crisis around.”

The Police Divisions with the greatest number of suspected drug deaths were Greater Glasgow (328), Lanarkshire (139) and Ayrshire (109).

Suspected drug related deaths recorded by Police Scotland

Figures are broken down by force and recorded between January and December 2021

Greater Glasgow - 328

Lanarkshire - 139

Ayrshire - 109

North East - 106

Tayside - 99

Edinburgh City - 97

The Lothians & Scottish Borders - 88

Fife - 72

Forth Valley - 63

Renfrewshire & Inverclyde - 62

Highlands & Islands - 49

Dumfries & Galloway - 44

Argyll & West Dunbartonshire - 39