Scotland has worst drugs problem in Europe as death rate soars

Auslan Cramb
More than 1,000 deaths involved methadone, heroin and morphine, but a large percentage of those who died - 792 - had also taken pills such as diazepam - The Canadian Press

Scotland’s drugs death rate is now higher than the USA and every other country in Europe, and three times the UK average, according to shocking new figures.

The statistics released on Tuesday revealed that 1,187 people died following drug use last year, an increase of 27 per cent on 2017.

Methadone, the heroin substitute prescribed by the NHS to help heroin users, caused more deaths than the drug it is meant to replace and contributed to nearly half the total mortality figure.

The National Records of Scotland said the country now had a higher mortality rate than the whole of Europe.

In the US, the latest figures suggest a drug death rate of 217 per million people, compared to a figure in Scotland of 218 per million.

The Scottish total is at the highest level since current records began in 1996 and is more than double the 2008 figure of 574.

The statistics show that 72 per cent of those who died were male, with more than 1,000 deaths involving methadone, heroin and morphine. However, a large percentage of those who died - 792 - had also taken pills such as diazepam and etizolam.

It was reported last month that these "street valiums" can be bought for less than the price of a chocolate bar, at just 30p a pill in central Glasgow, and are often taken in conjunction with opiates, with fatal consequences.

Scotland's Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said the figures were "shocking", and bold new approaches were needed to save lives. He also repeated calls for the UK Government to enable the creation of safer "drug consumption rooms".

But the Scottish Conservatives said SNP administration had presided over the catastrophic rise in drug deaths after having sole control over health and justice for the past 12 years.

Annie Wells, Conservative public health spokesperson, said the crisis should be the number one concern for Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government.

She added: "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."

The Tories called for a strategy based on rehabilitation and "abstinence-based recovery", services which they said had been cut by the SNP.

Ms Wells added: "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."

Miles Briggs, the shadow health secretary, said drug and alcohol partnerships were the "Cinderalla" service of the NHS and the figures were an indictment of 20 years of failed drug policies under Labour, Lib Dem and SNP governments.

He called for a review of the methadone programme and new fast-track residential rehabilitation places.

He added: "SNP ministers have taken the regressive decisions to cut alcohol and drug partnership budgets in the past which has resulted in the destabilisation of services across the country."

Greater Glasgow & Clyde had the highest rate at 0.23 per 1,000 population, followed by Tayside and Ayrshire & Arran with rates of 0.18 and 0.17 per 1,000 population respectively.