The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2020 reached its highest since records began 25 years ago.
Data from the Scottish government revealed that 1,339 people died from drug misuse, a five per cent increase on 2019 when there were 1,264 deaths, prompting the drugs policy minister Angela Constance to describe the situation as “heart-breaking".
The data also showed men were 2.7 times more likely than women to die and people living in the most deprived parts of the country were 18 times as likely to die than people in the least deprived.
People aged between 35 and 54 accounted for nearly two-thirds of deaths and the majority of fatalities were linked to opioids. Benzodiazepines were connected to 974 deaths.
The Scottish government pledged £250m to address the issue over the next five years, including £100m to improve residential rehabilitation and £4m on the implementation of medication assisted treatment standards.
Ms Constance said the government needed to capture as much information on drug use as possible and said it will publish quarterly data on suspected drug deaths from September so it can “react more quickly and effectively to this crisis and identify any emerging trends.”
“We are working hard to get more people into the treatment that works for them as quickly as possible,” she said.
“Without treatment, there is little hope of recovery so we are funding as many community and third sector initiatives as we can so that individuals have the widest possible choice and can opt for the support which suits them and their family.”
Laura Wilson, RPS Scotland policy and practice lead, said pharmacy teams are “well placed” to help prevent drug-related deaths and said “many of these deaths are preventable.”
“Pharmacists and pharmacy teams already play a big role in supporting and providing treatment to people who use drugs, as well as offering harm reduction services and advice,” she said.
Ms Wilson called on the Scottish government, pharmacy organisations and contractors “to work together to reduce harm from drugs and improve the health of people who use drugs.”
She also said “significant resource, expertise and finance” is needed to tackle the problem.