US drug epidemic hits Scotland

Wednesday 14th August 2019

A charity is warning that Scotland is in the grip of an opioid drug deaths epidemic on par with the United States.

A report by Crew, a harm reduction and outreach charity, finds 150 in every million Scots died from opioid use in 2017 compared to a US rate of 149 deaths per million people.

The Edinburgh-based charity says: ‘We are amidst an opioid epidemic that we were not and are still not prepared for.’

Crew states Scotland has a worse record on opioid deaths than Canada and the US, traditionally regarded as the worst in the world. Opioid-related deaths in Scotland have doubled in the last decade.

Although opioids are not the most commonly used drugs, the report says, they are linked to the most deaths because even a small increase in dose can be fatal.

This class of drugs was linked to 1,021 drug-related deaths in 2018, mostly due to heroin, morphine and methadone, compared to 815 the year before. The average age of people losing their lives to drugs was 42.

The report conclusion states: ‘There has been no overall decrease in drug taking or drug-related harm as a result of legislative approaches taken to control their availability. UK drug laws are based on an outdated ideology and must be revised.’

While the charity backs heroin-assisted treatment and safe consumption facilities, it warns ‘there would be a wait of months, if not years, before they were implemented into practice.’

‘…we should look at the hundreds of existing drug services and organisations already working tirelessly across the nations,’ it continues.

‘If governments are serious about treating this as the public health emergency that it is, emergency funding must be given…Every day that this is delayed, the head count gets higher.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland faces an emergency in drug deaths which is why the Public Health Minister has stated on a number of occasions that we have set up a Taskforce to specifically look at this issue.

“We want to implement a range of responses that ensure high quality, person centred services are available to those most at risk. This includes innovative, evidence-based approaches – such as the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities – and welcome the UK Government’s recent commitment to working with us on this issue.”