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Highland drug deaths rise to 42 as Scotland's grim toll shows significant drop

By Neil MacPhail

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Scotland drug deaths show "significant" drop.
Scotland drug deaths show "significant" drop.

Drug misuse caused the death of 1,051 people in 2022, according to latest statistics published by National Records of Scotland.

And 42 of the people in this dreadful toll were in Highland NHS Board area.

This compares with 35 drug deaths in 2021 and 33 in 2020 in Highland.

Figures from National Records of Scotland show that the 2022 figures is the first significant drop following several years of record high totals.

However, Scotland continues to have the worst drug death rate in the UK and the rest of Europe.

The Scottish total is being hailed as a decrease of 279 deaths compared with 2021, representing the lowest number of drug misuse deaths since 2017.

But despite this fall, drug misuse deaths are still more common than they were two decades ago.

After adjusting for age, there were 3.7 times as many drug misuse deaths in 2022 compared with 2000.

Glasgow City and Dundee City had the highest rates of drug misuse deaths over the last 5 years while East Renfrewshire and Aberdeenshire had the lowest rates.

Opiates and opioids, including heroin, morphine and methadone, were implicated in more than 8 out of 10 drug related deaths in 2022.

The majority of drug misuse deaths were classified as accidental poisonings, with 7% classed as intentional self-poisonings.

The rate of drug poisoning deaths in Scotland was 2.7 times as high as the UK average in 2021, the most recent year that data is available for the UK as a whole.

Julie Ramsay, Head of Demographic Statistics at National Records of Scotland, said: “While drug misuse deaths have been rising over the last two decades, with a particularly sharp increase after 2013, today’s statistics show the biggest year on year decrease since the series began.

“The statistics provide some insight into the people who are most likely to die from drug misuse.

“Those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland are almost 16 times as likely to die from drug misuse compared with people living in the least deprived areas.

“Males are twice as likely to die from drug misuse than females, however the fall in deaths in 2022 was much larger for males than for females.

“The age profile of drug misuse deaths has become older over time, the average age of people who died from drug misuse deaths has increased from 32 in 2000 to 45 in 2022.

In recent years, the number of deaths where street benzodiazepines (for example, etizolam) were implicated has increased rapidly from one death in 2008 to 842 in 2021, although this then fell to 505 in 2022. These street benzodiazepines account for the vast majority of drug misuse deaths where benzodiazepines were implicated.

The number of drug misuse deaths where prescribable benzodiazepines were implicated has increased slightly with 148 deaths in 2008 and 190 in 2022.

Prescribable benzodiazepines are often medications for anxiety or insomnia.

The proportion of drug misuse deaths where gabapentin and/or pregabalin were implicated has increased from <1% in="" 2008="" to="" 35%="" in="" 2022.="" these="" are="" drugs="" used="" to="" treat="" epilepsy="" and="" nerve="" pain.="">

The proportion where cocaine was implicated has also increased from 6% in 2008 to 35% in 2022.

The number of drug misuse deaths where alcohol was implicated (in addition to a controlled drug) has remained fairly similar, although the proportion has fallen from 29% in 2008 to 11% in 2021.

In 2022, there were 476 drug misuse deaths where controlled new psychoactive substances (NPSs) were implicated.

These are drugs which have been made to mimic the effects of illegal substances such as cocaine or ecstasy and have become more common in recent years.

The majority of NPSs involved were benzodiazepines, for example, etizolam.

In 79% of all drug misuse deaths in 2022, more than one drug was implicated in the death.

Of all drug misuse deaths in 2022, the following substances were implicated:

• opiates/opioids (such as heroin/morphine and methadone) – 867 deaths (82% of the total)

• benzodiazepines (such as diazepam and etizolam) – 601 (57%)

• gabapentin and/or pregabalin – 367 (35%)

• cocaine – 371 (35%)

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