**PRESS RELEASE** Huge Rise in Scottish Drug Deaths Was Avoidable

Press release

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3rd July 2018


Huge Rise in Scottish Drug Deaths Was Avoidable

Today the latest statistics on drug-related deaths were published by National Records for Scotland - and they make for shocking reading. 934 drug-related deaths were registered in Scotland in 2017, 66 more deaths, (8% more) than in 2016. This was a record level for the fourth year in a row, and more than double the figure for 2007. At 279 deaths per million people (age 16-64), Scotland’s drug death rate is now nearly fifty times that of Portugal’s, at less than 6 deaths per million.

Most drug-related deaths involve more than one substance.

  • Heroin was implicated in 50% of the total - 470 deaths, similar to last year’s 473.

The number of deaths was more than ever before for:

  • 815 deaths from Opiates (e.g. heroin/morphine) or synthetic opioids (e.g.methadone/fentanyl) as a group (previous highest 766 in 2016)

  • 552 deaths from Benzodiazepines as a group (previous highest 426 in 2016)

  • 176 deaths from Cocaine (previous highest 123 in 2016)

  • 439 deaths from Methadone (previous highest 362 in 2016).


Martin Powell, from Transform Drug Policy Foundation said; “Scotland’s drug death rate is now almost 50 times that of Portugal - which massively reduced deaths by decriminalising people who use drugs, and putting health, not punishment at the heart of their approach. Scotland’s drug death tragedy is also avoidable, if the UK and Scottish governments just follow the advice of the Home Office’s own expert panel - the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. And that means end the criminalisation of people who use drugs, introduce safer drug consumption rooms, prescribe heroin to those with a clinical need, and properly fund treatment. Then Scotland need never be the drug death capital of Europe again.


"And right now Home Secretary Sajid Javid must stop blocking Glasgow NHS’s plans for a safer drug consumption room - where people can take illegal drugs under supervision.  Longer term, to protect our communities we will need to legally regulate drug supply to reduce crime, and steer people towards safer products.”


Jolene Crawford of the Anyone’s Child Project said, "It is with a very heavy heart that I read the news of drug deaths in Scotland rising yet again to new record highs, which also means record numbers of families enduring the agony of losing a loved one, as our family did. The evidence proves that the Scottish Government has the potential to prevent many of these deaths, as does the UK Government, and I wonder, how many more must die before real action is taken?”



Martin Powell, Transform Head of Campaigns,  07875 679 301 martin@tdpf.org.uk

Steve Rolles, Transform Senior Policy Analyst, 07980 213 943 steve@tdpf.org.uk


Jolene Crawford, Anyone’s Child in Scotland, call 0117 325 0295 to arrange interview




  1. The National Records of Scotland 2017 drug related deaths statistics are available from https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/statistics-and-data/statistics/statistics-by-theme/vital-events/deaths/drug-related-deaths-in-scotland/2017

  2. The UK government’s official advisers - the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs have recommended drug consumption rooms, heroin prescribing, increased funding for treatment and not criminalising users on a number of occasions. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-opioid-related-death...

  3. Transform Drug Policy Foundation is a UK and Mexico based think tank campaigning for the legal regulation of drugs www.tdpf.org.uk   

  4. Read more about Jolene and Katrina’s story at Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control http://anyoneschild.org/katrina/

  5. A graph showing the countries with the highest death rates in Europe can be found on page 79 of http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/4541/TDAT17001ENN....

  6. Portugal (and other countries) have aging drug users - but they are not dying of overdoses. At 279 deaths per million (age 16-64) Scotland’s death rate is 48 times that of Portugal (5.8 per million) where deaths fell dramatically across all ages after it decriminalised possession of drugs in 2001, encouraging people to seek help, and putting money saved into treatment (EMCDDA 2017). Drug decriminalisation in Portugal: setting the record straight (Pop. Scotland Age 16-64 = 3.49 million 974 deaths divided by 3.49 = 279  deaths per million (Page 16) . 279 divided by 5.8 = 48 http://www.tdpf.org.uk/blog/drug-decriminalisation-portugal-setting-record-straight


  1. No one has ever died from an overdose, anywhere in the world, in a supervised drug consumption room (EMCDDA 2017).

  2. For more on what Scotland should do read our Briefing: Scottish Drug Policy Reform: Keeping vulnerable people safer by putting health first. https://www.tdpf.org.uk/blog/scottish-drug-policy-reform-keeping-vulnerable-people-safer-putting-health-first