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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Gibson MSP

Scotland’s Highest Ever Incidence of Drug Deaths

National Records of Scotland has revealed that there were 82 drug-related deaths registered by NHS Ayrshire & Arran in 2018. The only year more drug-related deaths were recorded was in 2016, when 85 people across Ayrshire died due to drugs. Across Scotland, there were 1,187 drug-related deaths in 2018, the highest number on record.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick MSP has said that what Scotland faces in terms of drug-related deaths is an emergency. Earlier this month, he appointed Professor Catriona Matheson to chair a new taskforce which will advise on what changes, in practice or in law, could help save lives and reduce harm.

In addition, the SNP Government’s refreshed alcohol and drug strategy, backed by further investment of £20 million a year, sets out a range of measures to prevent drug-related harm. This includes an eight-point treatment plan outlining ways of improving access to effective services and interventions. It also focuses on how we support those most at risk and treat the wider issues affecting them.

Mr FitzPatrick said:

“The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking. It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue, and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures to save the lives of those most at risk.

“Last week, I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee and asked for help in persuading the UK Government to either act now to enable us to implement a range of public health focused responses - including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities - or devolve the power to the Scottish Parliament so that we ourselves can act.

“I want to ensure that the work of the new taskforce is driven by strong evidence and the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are heard. I am determined to shape our services in every walk of life to prevent harm and reduce the appalling number of deaths."

Chair of the Drug Deaths Taskforce, Professor Catriona Matheson added:

“My thoughts go out to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones.

“These figures bring the scale of the problem we face in Scotland into sharp focus. The need for urgent action is clear and the taskforce gives us a mechanism to do that.

“It is imperative to identify ways in which we can do more to save the lives of those most at risk and we will look carefully at what has worked in other parts of the UK and internationally to ensure we apply strong evidence-based practice.”

Kenneth Gibson MSP commented:

“I am deeply concerned about the increase in drug-related deaths in Ayrshire, particularly the 25.6% increase over last year, from 61 to 82 people. We must do more to find out what is causing this and how we can better prevent such tragedies.

“Behind every number there is a person whose life went awry and family and friends whose worst fears have come true.

“Some solutions suggested by experts include decriminalising drug use and using safe consumption rooms. While Scotland is dependent on the UK Tory Government to amend legislation on that and such approval is sadly not forthcoming, we must find other ways to deal with these issues in the meantime. It gives me hope that the SNP Government treats this as a public health, rather than a justice issue and I believe the Taskforce will deliver.

“In our own area we need to be looking at what NHS Ayrshire & Arran can do to help reduce these deaths, as we had the highest percentage increase in Scotland last year apart from NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.”

If you are, or know someone who may be struggling with drug or alcohol misuse, please don’t hesitate to contact the North Ayrshire Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service on 01294 476000 or at:

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs provides support to family members and friends who have been affected by the substance use of a relative or loved one. To contact them, call 08080 10 10 11 or visit to find your nearest support group.


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