More than 1,000 suspected drug deaths recorded by Police Scotland

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More than 1,000 suspected drug deaths were reported to the police in Scotland during the first nine months of 2021, according to new figures.

Police Scotland recorded 1,007 deaths they believe were linked to drug use between January and September this year, 40 fewer than the same period in 2020.

The highest number of suspected drug deaths occurred in the Greater Glasgow region, with 265 fatalities in the first nine months of the year, followed by Lanarkshire with 98 and then the city of Edinburgh and the North East, both with 86.

National Record of Scotland figures – where drug-related causes are listed on death certificates – show Scotland had the highest drug death rate in Europe, with 1,339 people dying in 2020.

The latest Police Scotland figures, which record suspected causes of deaths, now list 1,371 suspected drug deaths over the 12 months to September 2021 – the fifth-highest 12-month period on record.

“While there has been a slight downturn in the number of suspected drug deaths, it is still far too high, and I am clear there is much hard work and many challenges ahead if we are to truly turn the tide on this emergency.

“These quarterly reports were commissioned to provide more regular reporting of data on drug death trends in Scotland so everyone involved in our national mission remains focused on the work we must do to get more people into the treatment which works for them as quickly as possible, regardless of where they live, and this afternoon I will update Parliament on progress on the implementation of MAT (medication assisted treatment) standards across the country.

“The £250 million we are investing in tackling this public health emergency will make a difference.

“I am working to ensure it reaches frontline services as quickly as possible and that every single penny will count as we continue to prioritise our efforts to turn this crisis around.”

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament later, she told MSPs that local services were being encouraged to become more flexible and less reliant on traditional medical models of care.

She said: “What this will mean is that people will not have to wait days or even weeks to access MAT, same-day treatment will become the norm.”

Professor Angela Thomas, of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: “The college is encouraged by what appears to be a small decrease in the number of drug-related deaths, recently.

“We hope that this is the start of a trend in the right direction, towards Scotland getting to grips with the drug deaths crisis. It is clear that there is much work yet to do.

“We are supportive of the recent public campaign aiming to reduce stigma towards people who use drugs.

“Reducing stigma is one of many tools available to policy-makers in their efforts to reduce drug-related deaths, along with Medication Assisted Treatments (MAT) which we also support.

“In a report we published last March, we highlighted additional policies which our fellows and members said could help to reduce drug deaths. This includes the introduction of safe consumption facilities and a rollout of heroin-assisted treatment across all centres in Scotland.”

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