Posted on: 15 December, 2023
This week data released by the Scottish Government revealed that drug deaths have risen for the first nine months of 2023 by 13%, compared to the same period in 2022. This number represents an additional 103 lives that have been tragically lost to drugs this year. When looking at the data set over a 12 month period, compared to the 12 months prior (up to September 2022), the increase in preventable deaths is 10%.
The suspected drug death data in Scotland is presented quarterly and is information provided by Police Scotland. These are suspected drug deaths, so the figure may change marginally upon the official release next year.
Prior to the release of this latest data, drug related deaths in Scotland had decreased in 2 successive years (2021 & 2022), with 2022’s numbers (21% decrease) particularly promising. The Police Divisions with the highest number of deaths so far in 2023 were Glasgow (231), Lanarkshire (108) and Edinburgh City (99).
This news demonstrates that there is much more to be done to tackle tragically high levels of drug deaths, which are particularly stark for those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland (16x higher).
The saddening figures highlight the need for the Scottish Government to move more quickly to implement and widen the availability of world-evidenced harm reduction solutions such as overdose prevention centres, diamorphine assisted treatment, world class treatment and diversion from prosecution for people caught in possession of drugs.
There have been positive developments, such as the implementation of diamorphine assisted treatment in Glasgow, and confirmation that the UK will finally see its first sanctioned overdose prevention centre in the new year. However, one OPC and one DAT facility will not be enough to make a meaningful impact, and the government must find solutions to enable further sites in places with high numbers of deaths.
The need for further action and funding from the UK and Scottish governments is particularly pronounced due to the rise in prevalence of synthetic opioids, namely nitazenes, contaminating the UK drug supply. These are clandestine produced opioids that are somewhere between 50-300 x stronger than street heroin, but have also appeared in drugs such as benzodiazepines, a type of drug which is particularly prevalent in Scotland. We have produced an 8 point plan for policymakers to mitigate this escalating public health emergency.
The issue in Scotland is further compounded by the highly medicalised NHS approach to drug treatment, and issues related to Medical Assisted Treatment standards are an indictment to this approach. Time delays create barriers for people wishing to access treatment, evidenced by estimates indicating only 40% of people with drug dependencies are currently in treatment, compared with an estimated 65% in England.
Treatment must encompass a Whole System approach which provides a wider variety of harm reduction measures, as well as abstinence programmes, to ensure a variety of options for those who want to reduce, halt or use drugs less harmfully. Cost-effictivity in service delivery would enable a wider roll out of proven schemes, and the piloting of the alternative DAT models, as well as social model OPCs could significantly reduce costs to the taxpayer. Diamorphine Assisted Treatment in Scotland is around 3 times the price of schemes elsewhere in the UK.
Edinburgh Council passed a motion calling for an OPC in the capital, with a scoping study due to report back on feasibility in due course. Dundee MSPs such as Joe FitzPatrick have championed the need for DAT in Dundee, and it is still unclear whether people are being diverted from prosecution since the Lord Advocate’s statement on the matter in September 2021.
Cranstoun calls on all UK Governments to work cohesively and collaboratively to put an end to this preventable suffering. The Scottish Government recently released an encouraging report calling for several harm reduction measures, whilst the Drugs Report from the Home Affairs Select Committee also made salient recommendations that will save lives. More must be done now to put an end to Britain’s shame of being the drug deaths capital of Europe.
Peter Krykant, Events, Fundraising & Campaigns Lead, said: “This week’s news is extremely distressing and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost a son, daughter, partner, brother or sister to drugs this year.
“One death from drugs is one too many, and much more must be done to prevent these tragedies from ripping through communities.
“I strongly urge the Scottish Government to consider what action can be taken now.”
Meg Jones, Director of New Business and Services, said: “It is beyond tragic that drug deaths are rising again, and our thoughts are with everyone who has lost a loved one to drugs in 2023.
“Cranstoun is actively campaigning for evidenced-based measures to be accelerated in Scotland, and we stand ready to work with the Government and sector colleagues to reduce the awful amount of suffering.”