THE recently released drug death figures reveal the first significant fall, in 2022, after a minor reduction in 2021.

This is to be welcomed though, of course, the level remains far too high. Hopefully we find ourselves on a steady downward slope toward a situation where drug deaths in Scotland are not higher than in other comparable countries.

While, by no means wishing to minimise this crisis, it is interesting to note the analysis only three weeks earlier by Paul Breen of the Government Analysis Function team in the UK Civil Service which suggests that, due to differences in data collection methods, the rates in Scotland and other parts of the UK are ‘not directly comparable’ and that because of these differences ‘the figure for England and Wales underestimates the number by a far greater extent.’

As yet, we have no clear explanation for this fall in deaths, but two factors are being suggested.

First, though in fewer media reports, the NHS Scotland drug and alcohol treatment service, for five consecutive years now, has seen 95% of those referred to it for problematic use of drugs, within three weeks or less. I appreciate that too many are not coming forward in the first place to benefit from this life-saving service.

Second and more widely credited with a major role in reducing deaths from the major cause – opioid-related overdoses – is the National Naloxone Programme in 2011/12 which research suggests is saving around 1400 lives each year in Scotland. Naloxone is now carried across the country by numerous ‘non-drug treatment’ service workers including all police officers from February 2022, at the beginning of this first year of significant reduction in drug deaths.

The National:

There had been some uncertainty about the adoption of a role for police officers in the use of Naxolone. Research in the USA in 2015 and 2019, found evidence of stigma and negativity from frontline law enforcement officers but a pilot study in Scotland in 2021, undertaken by staff at the School of Medicine at the University of Dundee, found 81% support for the use of the Naxolone packs, among the 808 police officers in the study, with one reporting memorably: “I’m not going to leave someone to die”.

Noting the correlation of this first major reduction in drug deaths with their first adoption by frontline police officers, often first at the scene, is clearly worth investigation but is not intended to take away from the live-saving efforts of those many other workers whose quick reactions will have saved many more lives than police officers alone could have achieved.

Allan Dorans is the SNP MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock