Drug-Related Deaths In Scotland On The Rise

by Pierre-Yves Galléty

A report published yesterday by the National Records of Scotland reveals that there were 867 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2016, a 23% increase from the previous year (706 in 2015).

This number is the highest ever recorded since records began in 1996. Even though figures have fluctuated positively (decrease in drug-related deaths) and negatively (increase in drug-related deaths) over the years, the general trend stays negative for two reasons: Firstly there have been more rises than falls in drug-related death in Scotland (6 against 4); and secondly, rises in death were largely more significant than falls.

The last decrease occurred between 2011 and 2012, going down from 584 to 581 deaths. This highlights another alarming evolution: drug-related deaths have been on a constant rise for four years in a row. This is especially concerning considering that the number of deaths between 2011 and 2012 was only reduced by 3, and before that drug-related deaths were already on the rise since 2009. This means that, aside from the low reduction of 3 people in 2012, drug-related deaths have been on the rise 8 years in a row since 2009.

Gender and Age groups

Men tend to use drugs more than women, which translates into the statistics of drug-related deaths in Scotland: in 2016, 68% of people that died from drug use were men.

When looking at age groups, the report shows that people aged 35-44 were by far the most involved in drug-related deaths, with 327 deaths (38% of all 2016 drug deaths) compared to 249 in 2015. The second most vulnerable age group was the 45-54 year-olds, which represented 25% of all drug-related deaths in 2016. These two age groups have been the most concerned by drug deaths in Scotland since 2014. At that time, 25-34 year-olds were the second age group most involved in drug-related deaths. It is also important to note that across all age categories, only people over 55 year old have seen a decrease in drug deaths between 2015 and 2016.

Source: Flickr


Of all 867 drug deaths in 2016 in Scotland, only 66 implicated only one drug. Of these, opioids (heroin/morphine, methadone etc) are most responsible for drug deaths with 35 deaths recorded. Although the report warns that detecting only one drug in a body doesn’t mean alcohol wasn’t present.

In deaths implicating more than one drug, the report states that it is very difficult to estimate which drug was most responsible for death. However, statistics show that heroin and morphine were present in 473 out of all 867 reported deaths in 2016, making it the most present drug found in deaths related to multiple drug use. This figure is the highest ever recorded – up from 345 in 2015.

Cause of death

All drug-related deaths were divided in five categories: drug abuse, accidental poisoning, intentional self-poisoning, assault by drugs, and undetermined intent. The report shows that 729 (84%) out of 867 deaths happened because of accidental poisoning, whereas only 32 (3.6%) were of drug abuse. When crossing age categories and underlying cause of death, we can see that people between 34 and 45 year old dying from accidental poising are by far the largest group (285) dying from drug use in Scotland in 2016.

Words by Pierre-Yves Galléty. Tweets at @PYGallety

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