SNP ministers have been accused of ignoring a new drugs epidemic after official figures showed the number of user deaths has spiralled to record levels.
The statistics showed that 613 drug-related deaths were registered north of the Border in 2014, an increase of 16 per cent compared to the previous year and the largest total ever. The figure is nearly 46 per cent higher than the 421 recorded in 2006, the year before the SNP took power at Holyrood, and it has more than doubled since 2000.
Heroine and morphine accounted for more than half the deaths, with the number linked to these drugs increasing 40 per cent last year to 309, the highest figure since 2009. A further 214 were attributed to methadone, the NHS-prescribed heroine substitute, accounting for a further third of the deaths. Although the majority of cases involved men, the figures recorded a 141 per cent increase in female deaths over the past decade.
A large increase of more than 15 per cent was also recorded in the number of deaths linked to opiates and the number of deaths linked to alcohol rose by three to 106. Since the Nationalists took power, the average age of the deceased has increased from 34 to 40.
Paul Wheelhouse, the Community Safety Minister, said the figures should act as a “wake-up call” to the dangers of using drugs but Labour accused the SNP of having had “little to say” about the scourge over the past eight years. Graeme Pearson, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, said: “Four years ago we saw a record high in drug related deaths, and now today we see another one. The Scottish Government should investigate why there has been such a large spike.”
The heroin substitute methadone accounted for 214 deaths. Males accounted for almost three-quarters of the deaths while more than a third occurred in the 35 to 44 age group.
Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, were implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 121 deaths (20 per cent). The totals for cocaine, ecstasy-type drugs and amphetamines were 45, 14 and 22 respectively.
Just under one third of those who died were from the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area, while 17 per cent came from Lothian and 11 per cent from Lanarkshire.
The report said changes in drugs classification was partly responsible for the increase as in 2014, tramadol and zopiclone became controlled substances. To examine long-term trends and iron out annual fluctuations, the report also examined the difference between the average number of drugs deaths between 2000 and 2004, and 2010 and 2014. This showed that the four-year average has increased from 336 to 558 over the past decade, with the percentage increase much larger among women (141 per cent) than men (50 per cent).
Mr Wheelhouse said: “The figures published today highlight that while there has been some progress in tackling problem drug use, Scotland still faces a huge challenge in tackling the damaging effects of long-term drug use among an ageing cohort of individuals in Scotland.
“We are undertaking work to better understand the needs of particular subgroups and to better understand what role the purity, or strength, of illicit drugs is playing in increasing fatalities."
By Simon Johnson - The Telegraph/Aug. 25, 2015
Photo: The Daily Record
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