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Drug death rate in Scotland 'highest in European Union'

In 2018, there were 1187 drug-related deaths registered in the country - a 27% rise on 2017.

Drugs: Deaths have more than doubled in the past decade.
Drugs: Deaths have more than doubled in the past decade. Flickr by Dean812

More than 1100 people died in Scotland last year due to drugs, according to new official statistics - giving the country the worst drug death rate in the EU.

It is the highest number for drug-related deaths ever recorded in Scotland, and the first time it has ever risen into four figures.

In 2018, there were 1187 registered in 2018 - 253 more than the year before, or a 27% increase, according to the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

Over the last decade, drug deaths have more than doubled, with a total of 574 recorded in 2008.

Compared to other countries in the European Union, Scotland has the highest number of deaths per million of the population, at 213, followed by Estonia on 130, Norway on 75 and the UK as a whole on 74.

However, not all nations in the EU count drug deaths in same way, with some countries potentially under-reporting in areas like overdose data.

Opiates or opioids - like heroin, morphine and methadone - were implicated in or potentially contributed to the deaths of 1021 people in Scotland in 2018, amounting to 86% of total drug deaths.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1438958-scottish-government-should-be-braver-on-drugs-fix-room/ | default

Benzodiazepines such as diazepam and etizolam were implicated in or potentially contributed to 792 deaths (67% of the total).

Men accounted for 72% of drug deaths last year, while 442 drug-related deaths were of people aged 35-44 (37%), 345 deaths were in the 45-54 age group (29%) and 217 were aged 25-34 (18%).

Greater Glasgow and Clyde was the NHS board area with the most drug deaths, at 394 - a third of the total - followed by NHS Lothian (152), NHS Lanarkshire (130) and NHS Tayside (109).

By council area, Dundee City Council has the highest number of drug deaths per head of population over the last four years.

These latest figures suggest a drug deaths rate nearly three times higher than that of the UK, and among the worst in Europe.

It comes after the Scottish Government launched a new task force to tackle the "emergency" of spiralling drug deaths, led by Professor Catriona Matheson of Stirling University.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1439029-head-of-new-drug-death-task-force-has-been-revealed/ | default

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick has called on the UK Government to devolve powers over drug laws to Scotland so Scottish ministers can "implement a range of public health-focused responses".

Among these includes the plan for a supervised drug consumption facility in Glasgow, which proponents say could cut drug deaths but which the Home Office has blocked as illegal.

Fitzpatrick said: "The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking.

"It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue, and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk.

"Last week, I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee and I asked for help in persuading the UK Government to either act now to enable us to implement a range of public health-focused responses - including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities - or devolve the power to the Scottish Parliament so that we can act."

He continued: "I want to ensure that the work of the new task force which I have established is driven by strong evidence and the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are heard.

"I am determined to shape our services in every walk of life to prevent harm and reduce the appalling number of deaths.

"So I will give consideration to any proposals they bring forward which may help to tackle this issue and, ultimately, save lives."

'Scottish drugs policy has utterly failed. Here and across the UK, we need an immediate change of course.'
Scottish Liberal Democrats

Commenting on the figures, Scottish Conservative public health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: "The crisis in relation to drugs-related deaths in Scotland should now be a number one concern for this SNP government.

"On its watch, these fatalities - all of which are avoidable - have more than doubled since it came to power.

"The SNP has had control over health and justice for 12 years, yet hasn't managed to bring in anything that comes close to dealing with this problem.

"As these figures show, whatever drugs strategies it has adopted have only made things worse.

"Predictably, in their desperation, the nationalists are now pinning their hopes on consumption rooms, because they know it's something the UK Government does not agree with.

"That's a cowardly approach from those ministers who're meant to be taking responsibility. Instead, they're hiding behind a ruse."

She continued: "They should be focusing their efforts on rehabilitation and abstinence-based recovery, the very services they have cut to the bone.

"Over the last decade, the Scottish Government's approach has been to park vulnerable users on methadone, yet these figures show methadone now causes even more deaths than heroin.

"What more evidence do we need that this SNP government has failed every single one of these vulnerable people who've lost their lives to ruinous drug addiction?"

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1436007-rise-in-drug-deaths-sparks-westminster-investigation/ | default

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman, said: "Behind these heart-breaking numbers are devastated families who have lost sons, daughters, mothers and fathers, in every part of Scotland.

"Scotland's drug crisis is out of control and the status quo cannot continue.

"That is why Scottish Labour has consistently called on SNP ministers to declare a public health emergency and use every power available to them to tackle this crisis.

"But it is clear the UK Government must also reassess its approach and listen to experts and those living with substance misuse to find the best way to stop more families being left heartbroken.

"These drug deaths are preventable and our governments at Holyrood and Westminster must work together to solve this national crisis."

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Scotland now has the worst drugs death crisis in the developed world.

"Scottish drugs policy has utterly failed. Here and across the UK, we need an immediate change of course.

"Services can't afford a repeat of the 20% cut ministers made in 2016/17 - a mistake they are still recovering from."

He added: "We need to see the decriminalisation of the possession of drugs for personal use so that people can seek treatment without being afraid they will end up in prison.

"A crisis like this requires bold thinking, otherwise the deaths will continue to pile up."

A UK Government spokesman highlighted its ongoing drug misuse review, adding: "Any death related to drug misuse is a tragedy. 

"Our drug strategy is bringing together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover." 

He added: "The UK Government has been clear that there is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms and there are no plans to introduce them."

'It's street valium that is killing most people now'

Addiction: Andrew Thomson, now 42, has overdosed three times.
Addiction: Andrew Thomson, now 42, has overdosed three times. STV

Andrew Thomson overdosed the first time he took heroin at the age of 23. It didn't deter him.

Taking drugs became an "everyday occurrence" for him over the next 20 years, as he ended up homeless and in and out of prison.

He has slept rough in Glasgow city centre where he says five people have died from overdoses in the past year.

"There were days when you get dark thoughts about not wanting to be here anymore," he told STV.

"You are sick of the lifestyle of taking drugs and that's all you're caring about. You don't care about your family; you only care about where your next bag of heroin is coming from."

At the age of 42, Andrew has survived his third overdose. He says he owes his life to his key worker who found him lying on the floor in the room of his supported accommodation. Naxolone was administered to save his life.

'I don't want to put any of my kids through the heartache of losing their dad to drugs.'
Andrew Thomson, recovering drug addict

Andrew currently lives in one of the Simon Community's supported accommodation facilities - a place where people experiencing homelessness and drug addiction can be safe and cared for.

"I've overdosed three times in all the time I've been taking drugs," he said.

"I took heroin and valium and my workers came looking for me and found me shallow breathing on the floor. They gave me Naxolone and it took the heroin out my system and brought me back round.

"Today I'm sitting straight and I'm quite happy, it is frightening. Obviously I don't want to put any of my kids through the heartache of losing their dad to drugs.

"The only thing that can stop it happening again is me. We are not just drug addicts and a waste of space. We are people with a lot of problems."

Andrew added: "It's street valium that is killing most people now. A few years ago it was heroin."

https://stv.tv/news/west-central/1435026-street-valium-linked-to-sharp-rise-in-drug-deaths/ | default

The staff at Simon Community looking after Andrew and many others with complex needs say crisis intervention needs to come earlier

Jim Barclay, one of Simon Community's key workers, said people like Andrew come to them after 15 to 20 years of drug use and homelessness, when problems are already deep-rooted.

He told STV News: "We want to support people for as short a time as possible to prepare them to move into their own place and then help with further support to sustain their independence.

"Ideally this will be Andrew's last stay with us, his next steps will be to secure a tenancy and we will help him with that."

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