Suspected drug deaths in Scotland increase in October and November

The number of suspected drug deaths in Scotland in October and November increased following a downward trend, figures show.

Public Health Scotland’s Rapid Action Drugs Alerts and Response (Radar) quarterly report, released on Tuesday, shows 109 people died from suspected drug use in November, higher than the same month in both 2021 (89) and 2020 (93).

Figures for October were not included in the report.

As a result of the rise in drug deaths in recent years, the Scottish Government pledged to publish suspected drug death statistics on a quarterly basis, with the most recent release in December showing a fall of 15% between July and September when compared to the previous quarter.

Suspected drug deaths are reported based on Police Scotland management information and are not confirmed through toxicology.

Commenting on the report, drugs minister Angela Constance extended her “deepest sympathy to all those affected by the loss of a loved one through drugs”.

She added: “Although the suspected drugs deaths figures showed a 21% decrease for the first nine months of last year, this latest report indicates a sharp increase in October and November.

“I am aware that this report uses management information provided by Police Scotland and is based on attending officers’ observations and initial inquiries at the scene of death but, of course, the numbers we are seeing are still far too high.

“We remain focused on our ongoing efforts to get more people into the form of treatment which works best for them.

“We are committed to delivering drug checking facilities in Scotland which would enable us to respond faster to emerging trends and we would anticipate that licence applications to the Home Office, to grant permission for the establishment of these facilities in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, will be submitted early this year.”

Scottish Labour drugs spokesman Paul O’Kane warned there is “no room for complacency” in tackling drug deaths.

He added: “Every single one of these deaths was preventable, and each one is a tragedy.

“This is a national emergency and the SNP need to start treating it as one.

“Lives are on the line – the SNP must start acting with the urgency needed, starting by scrapping their dangerous plans to cut funding to vital drug and alcohol services.”

Scottish Conservative drugs spokeswoman Sue Webber said it is “deeply concerning” that numbers have started to rise again.

“Nicola Sturgeon admitted taking her eye of the ball and it would be utterly inexcusable if this were to be happening again,” she added.

“Far too often we get warm words and lengthy reports from SNP ministers. But precious little in the way of action on the frontline to tackle the drugs death epidemic.”

Ms Webber went on to urge the drugs minister to back the Conservatives’ Right to Recovery Bill.

Meanwhile, Radar also released an alert for emergency services and drugs workers about a group of synthetic opioids known as nitazenes, which have been discovered across the country and in prisons.

Angela Constance
Drugs policy minister Angela Constance said the Scottish Government ‘remains focused’ on getting more drug users the treatment they need (PA)

The alert claims most detections in Scotland were seen in fake oxycodone pills, sometimes stamped with an “M” or the number 30, while it has also been found in white paper form in prison seizures.

The drug has been detected in Lothian, Grampian and Greater Glasgow and Clyde, according to Radar.

Ms Constance said: “This data is published so services can respond quickly to what is happening on the ground.

“As a result of an increase in the availability of a new group of synthetic opioid drugs called nitazenes, Public Health Scotland has issued an alert so drug and alcohol services, emergency services, health care settings and high-risk settings are aware.”

A report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs last year suggested at least 24 deaths from nitazene substances in 2021, with the group suggesting the substances be considered Class A drugs.

The alert said: “Due to their unexpected presence in the drug supply and high potency, nitazenes pose a substantial risk of overdose, hospitalisation and death.

“PHS strongly recommends people do not take non-prescribed oxycodone tablets.”