DRUG related deaths in Scotland have reached another all-time high with more than 1,200 fatalities in 2019, according to official statistics.
Last year saw 1,264 deaths which had a drug-related element – a higher rate than across all EU countries, and more than three times the UK as a whole.
The National Records of Scotland (NRS) figures show a 6% increase on 2018 when Scotland also recorded the highest rate across Europe.
The rate of increase has slowed significantly since the 27% rise between 2017 and 2018.
Pete Whitehouse, director of NRS statistical services, said: “2019 saw the highest number of registered drug-related deaths in Scotland since reporting began over 20 years ago.
“The figure of 1,264 deaths is an increase of 77 on 2018.”
Heroin and morphine were involved in more deaths than in any previous year – at 645 – and more than half of the total.
Methadone was involved in 560 fatalities, benzodiazepines of any form – street and prescription – in 999, and cocaine in 365.
A total of 404 deaths were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area, 163 in Lanarkshire, 155 in Lothian, 118 in Tayside and 108 in Ayrshire and Arran.
Nearly 70% of the deaths were men, and more than two-thirds were aged between 35 and 54.
Opposition politicians and charities called for more action to stop the deaths, saying each could have been prevented.
Scotland’s public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy and I would like to offer my condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of those who have lost their lives.
“The Scottish Government is doing everything in its powers to tackle rising drug deaths and we are working urgently to put in place high-quality, person-centred services for those most at risk.”
He said steps taken by the Scottish Government and its partners include investing up to £93.5 million this year to tackle problem alcohol and drug misuse.
He added: “These deaths stem from a long-standing and complex set of challenges, and there is no shortcut that will suddenly solve this.
“There is, however, action that we are taking right now that will have an impact more immediately, such as maximising the availability of Naloxone and the routes by which it can be supplied.
“Our work to introduce Medication Assisted Treatment standards is one of the most significant changes to the way in which treatment services operate.
“Furthermore, we have seen the introduction of a range of new and innovative approaches, including Scotland’s first heroin assisted treatment service in Glasgow.”
He said the Scottish Government will keep working with the drugs death taskforce and others to “identify and put in place measures to tackle this issue and save lives”.
Mr FitzPatrick said he will continue to urge the UK Government to change the law to legalise supervised drug consumption facilities or devolve the necessary powers to Scotland, something which it has repeatedly ruled out.
Speaking in the Commons, SNP MP Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) said “we know we must do more, though we do this with our hands tied behind our back”.
She said: “In the treatment of drug law, an area close to my heart and the heart of my constituents, despite crying out for years in the face of a drugs death crisis – a drugs death crisis that last year saw 1,264 souls lost – the UK Government says Scotland will not be permitted, not allowed, not trusted to take further action to prevent the deaths of our citizens.
“Scotland accepts responsibility in the areas where we can act and we know we must do more, though we do this with our hands tied behind our back.”
Additional Reporting by PA Media