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Drug-related deaths in Scotland have fallen – but the rate is still higher than the rest of Europe

In 2022, just over 1,000 people died from drug abuse in Scotland, the lowest number since 2017.

That's 288 fewer than the 2020 peak of 1,339.

The lower figure of 1,051 still equates to almost three deaths a day and is by far the highest rate of any country in Europe, including the rest of the UK.

The recent decline is due to a decrease in the number of deaths among men and 25-55 year olds, but the number of deaths among older people continues to rise and the number of deaths among women remains high.

Julie Ramsay, head of demographic statistics at National Records of Scotland, said: “While the number of drug abuse deaths has increased over the last two decades, with a particularly sharp increase after 2013, today's statistics show the largest year-on-year decrease since the year.” Series began.”

Elena Whitham, SNP's Secretary of State for Drugs and Alcohol Policy in Scotland, said: “My condolences to everyone who has been affected by the loss of a loved one to drugs.”

“While I am pleased that hundreds of families have escaped this ordeal and lives have been saved, every life lost is a tragedy and the death toll is still too high.”

Which areas are most affected?

There remains a clear link between deprivation and drug-related deaths, with people in the most deprived areas being fifteen times more likely to die than those in the least deprived areas.

However, the decline this year has been sharpest in the most deprived parts of Scotland, down by a fifth since 2021.

Read more:
‘I lost my leg to a 15lb shot of heroin' – on the front lines of Scotland's drug epidemic

Glasgow City overtook Dundee this year with the highest death rate from drug abuse of any local authority area: 44.4 people died per 100,000 people, more than double the average for all of Scotland (19.8).

Dundee's rate was slightly lower at 43.1, followed by Inverclyde at 37.6.

Deaths among women catch up with men

In 2022, men were exactly twice as likely as women to die from drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2022, although this ratio has declined significantly in recent years, including a faster fall in male deaths that year.

Since 2000, the number of men dying has tripled, while the number of women has increased sevenfold.

“The Trainspotting Generation”

The number of under-35s dying as a result of drug abuse has remained relatively stable over the past 20 years.

The risk of dying used to be highest in younger age groups, but now it is most common among people in their 40s – the average age at which someone dies from drug abuse in Scotland is 45 today, compared with 32 in 2000 had.

Many of these people may have come of age in the late 1990s, when Danny Boyle adapted Irvine Welsh's genre-defining novel about Scotland's drug culture, Trainspotting.

The number of deaths in this age group has more than doubled in the last decade alone, although there have been significant declines this year. This year saw declines in all age groups except over 55s.

Speaking to Sky News, Irvine Welsh said the country has “always had a really bad relationship with intoxication”.

“When you combine the deep sense of systemic poverty that has been there and the utter apathy of governments over the years, then … you have something that lasts.”

“We have all these cultural issues related to, or lacking in, Scotland's place in the world and Scottish identity, but there's a broader pattern.”

Describing local politicians as “glorified aldermen,” Welsh added, “There seem to be people who don't want to do anything and people who can't do anything, pointing fingers and blaming each other.”

“What else do you want people to do? They won't go to college, there's no community investment, there's no employment for people — there's literally nothing but drugs.”

“And we have a cultural relationship with drugs in Scotland, which exacerbates the problem.”

What medication is it?

Cocaine was the only major drug class whose share of deaths increased this year. In 2021, it was involved in 30.3% of deaths, rising to 35.3% in 2022.

Opiates (such as heroin, morphine, and codeine) were the deadliest, contributing to more than four out of five deaths, followed by benzodiazepines (tranquilizers, which include Xanax and Valium).

However, deaths from these two classes of drugs have declined this year, while they have accounted for much of the increase over the past decade.

More than nine out of ten drug-related deaths are caused by users who take a combination of several drug types.

The data and forensics The team is a multifaceted entity dedicated to delivering transparent Sky News journalism. We collect, analyze and visualize data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite imagery, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling, we want to explain the world better and at the same time show how we do journalism.

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