Drug Deaths in Scotland Rose Yet Again to a Record High

2020 saw 1,339 drug-related deaths, four and a half times higher than 20 years ago.
A member of public walks through a lane near to a safe consumption van set up in Glasgow, Scotland​. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
A member of public walks through a lane near to a safe consumption van set up in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Drug deaths in Scotland have risen to a record high, according to the National Records of Scotland (NRS). 

In 2020, there were 1,339 drug-related deaths last year in Scotland – a 5 percent increase from the previous year and a vast increase from when the NRS first began collecting data in 1996. The NHS area of Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the highest prevalence of deaths at 30.8 per 100,000 population, followed by Ayrshire & Arran (27.2) and Tayside (25.7).


These figures mark an alarming rise in drug deaths, which have significantly increased over the last 20 years. There are four and a half times as many drug-related deaths in 2020 as there were in 2000. 

The study found that men were 2.7 times as likely to have a drug-related death than women, after adjusting for age. Two-thirds of all drug-related deaths were of those ages between 35 and 54, with the average age of death rising from 32 to 43 in the last 20 years. 

Poverty has also impacted the rate at which people died of drug-related deaths. Those in the most deprived areas were 18 times more likely to die than those in the least deprived area. 

Dr Andrew McAuley, Glasgow Caledonian University, told VICE World News the reasons behind the increase – which have become significantly worse since 2013 – are complex.

“There's no single reason why we have high drug-related deaths in Scotland,” said McAuley. “Some of the key reasons are that, per head of population, there are more problem drug users. We have more people at risk of drug-related deaths than in other countries including in the UK and rest of Europe.”

“​Secondly, the way we consume drugs in Scotland puts us more at risk than perhaps in other countries,” he said. “The poly-drug combination in Scotland is fairly unique and typically revolves around opioids, benzodiazepines and alcohol, and in recent years we've added cocaine into that mix.”


Low uptake rates and retention rates in rehab services as well as cuts to funding have also impacted these numbers, according to McAuley.

“Drug-related deaths are not a new infectious disease we don't know how to treat,” said McAuley. “The evidence base is very clear on the most effective ways to reduce drug-related deaths and that includes mainly drug treatments, like opioid substitutions.”

Alan Ferrier, head of demographic statistics, at the NRS said: "Sadly, last year saw the highest number of drug-related deaths in Scotland since reporting began 25 years ago, and 59 more deaths than were registered in 2019.”

“At the beginning of the century, the rate of drug-related deaths in Scotland’s most deprived areas was 10 times that of our least deprived areas. By 2020 this gap had increased to 18 times as high.”