In-depth analysis into drug-related deaths that were experienced in Scotland in 2017 and 2018 has been published by Public Health Scotland (PHS) today, providing insight into the lives of those who died and highlighting potential areas for future interventions.

The National Drug-Related Deaths Database (NDRDD) report presents detailed information that has been collected regarding the background and circumstances of people who had a drug-related death.

The findings build on our understanding of the annual figures published by the National Records of Scotland, with the aim of identifying trends that can ensure preventative approaches are developed and implemented to reduce potential harms. 

Key findings of the most recent report highlight that among the non-intentional drug-related deaths (either accidental, or of undetermined intent) experienced in 2018, the mean age of those who died increased from 35 years in 2009 to 42 years in 2018.

The substance most commonly implicated in deaths in 2018 was the ‘street’ benzodiazepine etizolam (49%). The percentage of deaths where etizolam was implicated increased over time.

Opioids (heroin/morphine, methadone or buprenorphine) were implicated in 77% of deaths in 2018. Among people in this group, 41% were prescribed an Opioid Substitution Therapy drug (for example, methadone) at the time of death. This percentage has increased from 21% in 2009.

Richmond Davies, Head of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at PHS, said:

“In 2017 and 2018, Scotland witnessed 934 and 1,187 drug-related deaths respectively – both record high tolls, which have since been surpassed in the following years. These preventable deaths are each individual tragedies that have a lasting effect on families, friends and our communities.

“It is therefore important and right that we take the time to fully understand the circumstances that has led to these deaths so that we are able to identify areas of increasing harm and provide evidence for interventions to be put in place that seek to prevent these harms.

“The number of drug-related deaths experienced in 2021 will be published later this week by the National Records of Scotland. It is our duty to continue to prioritise the response to the drug death crisis so that the same cannot be said year after year.”

Read the National Drug-Related Deaths Database (Scotland) report.

Last updated: 06 October 2022