Misuse of drugs is a significant issue in Scotland and it leads to a variety of social and health problems.

You can find frameworks to help you plan and deliver problem drug use services, and find out about national strategies below.

  • In 2014/15, there were 7,054 general acute hospital stays with a diagnosis of drug misuse.
  • The total economic and social costs of problem drug use in Scotland are estimated at around £3.5bn a year.
  • Problem drug use can pose a risk to children, family breakdown, unemployment and homelessness.
  • Injecting drugs is associated with the risk of transmission of blood borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C.
  • A survey in 2014/15 found that 6% of adults had used illicit drugs during the previous year, compared with 7.6% in 2008/09.
  • The estimated number of individuals with problem drug use in Scotland is 61,500 - almost 1 in 60 of our population aged between 15 and 64.
  • There were 867 drug-related deaths in 2016, 161 (23%) more than in 2015. This is the highest number ever recorded, and was 446 (106%) more than in 2006, which was 421.

You can read more data on problem drug use on the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) website (external).

Drug use and health inequalities

Problem drug use disproportionately affects people who experience socio-economic disadvantage. Council areas with some of the most deprived communities in Scotland have higher rates of problem drug use than the national estimate.

People with drug use problems are often amongst the most marginalised in society and can have multiple complex needs due to the circumstances in which they live. Addressing wider social inequalities, for example in housing and employment, as well as tackling poverty, can play an important role in the prevention of drug misuse and associated harms.

Drug use – local and national action

The Scottish Government’s national drugs strategy ‘The Road to Recovery: A New Approach to Tackling Scotland's Drug Problem’ was launched in May 2008. It states that it is essential to recognise the impact that a wide range of policies will have in tackling the factors associated with problem drug use. The policy clearly states the association between socio-economic disadvantage, deprivation and health inequalities and progression to problem drug use. The strategy focuses on recovery and reinforces the message that services should support people to move on towards a drug-free life, as active and contributing members of society.

The strategy stresses that delivery of services at a local level needs to be informed by the best available evidence of what works to reduce problem drug use, how it works and why.

Guiding principles of effective polices and interventions to address health inequalities show that targeting disadvantage and providing intensive support are most likely to reduce inequalities by improving outcomes for those most at risk.

In July 2017 the Scottish Government announced a strategy refresh to respond to the changing nature of Scotland’s drug problem. To address the health and social harms experienced by people with a drug problem the Scottish Government and the Scottish Drugs Forum are developing a “Seek, Keep and Treat” framework. This joint initiative will examine the operational implications of engaging with older drug users, how to encourage them into services and how to keep them in treatment.  We have supported this work by undertaking a rapid evidence review. 

There is a clear trend of increasing deaths among older people with a drug problem in Scotland. This cohort are categorised as people aged over 35 who experience health and social harms related to his/her own use of drugs. As this cohort is likely to grow in size over the next five years in Scotland, the scope of this rapid evidence review was to respond to the specific risks and needs identified for this group of people.

You can read the full report on keeping people safe for more information.

We have developed an Outcomes Framework for Problem Drug Use to support Alcohol and Drug Partnerships. The outcomes framework aims to inform effective action and demonstrate progress. It is informed by evidence and is aligned to Scotland’s national drugs strategy.  This online resource has been designed to be an interactive and user friendly way to access the different tools that can be used to plan or help evaluate your service.

It is the responsibility of Scotland's 30 Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to commission treatment services to meet the needs of their resident populations. This is done in line with the Framework for Local Partnerships on Alcohol and Drugs (external website), which clarifies the roles, responsibilities and accountability of all bodies involved in tackling alcohol and drugs problems.

You can contact us to find out more about the work we do around drugs.