Scotland’s drug death total could hit record levels for the seventh year in a row, experts have predicted.
Annual statistics for drug-related deaths in Scotland, to be released on Friday, are expected to show a further rise in the number of overdose deaths.
Lockdown and the Covid pandemic are expected to have had an impact on the figures for 2020.
Some 1,264 people died in 2019 from drug misuse in Scotland – a rate three times higher than the UK as a whole.
Prof Catriona Matheson, who chairs a Scottish government-appointed taskforce set up to tackle the crisis, Scotland she expected to see a small further increase in the number of people who have died from overdoses.”I think it will be a bit higher, but I am not anticipating any huge increase,” she said.
Prof Matheson also expects to see a continuation of some trends, such as mixing drugs including heroin and benzodiazepine tablets.
She believes that people in the slightly older age group – those with “long-term drug use in a difficult and challenging way using several substances at very high risk” – will continue to feature in the figures.
She also said new treatment standards for drug services would help address inconsistencies in care being offered across the country.
Prof Matheson was appointed to the Scottish Drug Death Taskforce in 2019. The group has received £14m in funding over the last two years to tackle the rising number of overdose deaths.
It has introduced:
- Training for Scottish Ambulance Service personnel in providing Take Home Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug, to 300 families
- A Police Scotland Naloxone pilot that has seen the drug used 21 times
- A number of one-stop shops for drug and treatment services and support in Ayrshire, Dundee and Edinburgh
However, the country’s drug death rate is still expected to be among the worst in Europe.
Some frontline charities and critics of the Scottish government’s approach to tackling the crisis have backed the Scottish Conservatives’ Right to Recovery Bill.
The Tories say it will enshrine in law individuals’ right to their chosen drug treatment, including residential rehabilitation services.
Prof Matheson said new medical assisted treatment standards should have an effect in the longer-term.
“It’s about rapid access to care on the day of treatment. So if you reach out for treatment, you should be able to access it,” she said.
“It’s also about choice within treatment. So, for example, in some areas you might have only been offered methadone. That’s quite limiting and it wouldn’t happen in any other area of clinical practice.
“There was a postcode lottery and that’s not on, in any area of care.”