A TOTAL of 1330 people lost their lives to drugs in Scotland in 2021, according to latest figures published by National Records of Scotland (NRS).

This represents a slight decline on 2020, the worst year on record, and the first year since 2013 in which drug deaths have not increased. However, it is still the second highest annual total on record, the NRS said.

Of those who died from the misuse of drugs, 65% were aged between 35 and 54 years old and more than two-thirds (70%) were men.

In 2021, there were 933 drugs deaths of males, a decrease of 40 from 2020. However, females saw an increase of 31 on 2020, with 397 women dying in 2021.

Dundee City had the highest age-standardised drug misuse death rate of all local authority areas (45.2 per 100,000 population for the 5-year period 2017-2021), followed by Glasgow City (44.4) and Inverclyde (35.7).

READ MORE: Drugs crisis: When it comes to it, what does justice look like?

Last year, it was revealed that drug deaths rose to a record 1339 in 2020, the seventh time in a row that the number had risen.

Julie Ramsay, vital events statistician at the NRS, said: “Drug misuse deaths have increased substantially over the past few decades – there were more than five times as many deaths in 2021 compared with 1996. 2021 is the first year since 2013 that drug misuse deaths have not increased.

“In 2021, after adjusting for age, people in the most deprived areas were more than 15 times as likely to have a drug misuse death as those in the least deprived areas. This ratio has widened over the past two decades.”

Opioids remained the number one cause of drug-related death in Scotland in 2021.

The National: Benzodiazepines

In 2015 there were 191 deaths involving benzodiazepines, last year there were 918, near five times as many. The NRS said this increase has mostly been driven by street benzodiazepines rather than those which are prescribed.

Of all drug misuse deaths in 2021, 84% involved opiates or opioids (such as heroin, morphine and methadone) and 69% involved benzodiazepines (such as diazepam and etizolam).

In 93% of all drug misuse deaths, more than one drug was found to be present in the body.

In 2020 (the most recent year available for the rest of the UK) Scotland’s drug misuse rate was 3.7 times that for the UK as a whole, and higher than that of any European country.

The SNP government created a Minister for Drugs Policy in December 2020 in response to the issue. In the role, SNP MSP and former social worker Angela Constance works “directly alongside” the First Minister on a “national mission” to tackle the crisis.

Constance (below) welcomed the decrease in drug death figures, but said the current situation remained “unacceptable”.

She said: “Scotland suffers a terrible toll from drug deaths, leaving families grieving and in pain and my heart goes out to all those affected by the death of a loved one through drugs.

“These latest statistics provide yet more heart-breaking reading, and the situation remains unacceptable.

“While there is so much more work to do, every life saved means one less family grieving and I am determined we can use this halt in the upward trend of recent years as a platform for real change.”

The National:

The Scottish Government announced funding of £250 million over the parliamentary term to tackle the crisis.

It has taken steps towards a new drugs policy, such as Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain’s announcement that people found in possession of Class A drugs would no longer face immediate prosecution.

There has also been movement towards establishing drugs consumption rooms to give users a safe space.

The move towards treating drugs deaths as a health issue and not a criminal one has been welcomed by experts, who contrasted it with the measures to crack down on users being considered by the UK Government.

However, there has been difficulty in the efforts, including the joint resignations of the heads of the drugs deaths taskforce.

Professor Catriona Matheson, an expert in substance misuse from Stirling University, and former Police Scotland deputy chief constable Neil Richardson penned a letter to the Scottish Government outlining in late December 2021.

In their letter, the two said that what was being asked of them was focused on speed of action rather than sustainability of change.

At the end of May, prominent drugs campaigner Peter Krykant warned that despite apparent efforts at government level, the situation for people on the ground had not changed at all.