This website is now part of Public Health Scotland. Publications released after 16 March 2020 are now published on the Public Health Scotland website.
Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

Drug related deaths in Scotland have reached 934 in 2017; this is an 8% increase on 2016 figures. They are now at their largest number ever recorded. Half of drug related deaths happen to people who live in our most deprived communities. Each death is a tragedy, affecting younger people and often young families, and every one of them is preventable. The figures out today show the lasting harm for hundreds of friends, neighbours and family members. A public health approach that focusses on harm reduction as a route to recovery has the potential to reverse this trend. 

Dr Andrew Fraser, Director of Public Health Science at NHS Health Scotland said:

“No-one makes the conscious choice to become drug-dependent, and no-one chooses a pathway that risks their life ending tragically and early. Coming off, and staying off drugs is hard. But it is possible. The evidence shows that our first line of defence against drug related deaths should be to reduce harm – accessing support and entering effective treatment is a key component of this.

“Some drug related harm is immediate and short term, such as injection- related infections. Many other harms, like long term physical and mental ill health, are more enduring and require sustained and often intense support. Drug use is commonly a sign of other issues, such as lack of hope from an early age in life, experiences of trauma, family breakdown and poverty. In addressing drug use, we need to address other factors in a person’s life if we are to reduce drug related deaths in Scotland, creating and using every opportunity to engage people for the longer term.

“A public health approach would do this – one that puts the person and their life right at the heart of prevention, removing underlying causes, reducing harm, and setting people on a road to recovery. Sometimes our approach could include helping people live with drug use whilst we address the more enduring problems that led to their problems with drugs in the first place. The outcome we want is fewer people dying at an early age, and we should try to do whatever that takes.”

For more information visit our webpages on drugs and health inequalities.