Scotland Communities and society, Health and social care

Drug deaths are preventable, not inevitable


Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

No-one chooses to become drug-dependent and every drug related death is preventable.  That’s why I was deeply upset to read that what we had feared, was true – the number of drug related deaths in Scotland are at their highest ever, and increased to more than one thousand last year.

What the data also shows is a high number of deaths of people between the ages of 35-44 (people who were born between 1960 and 1980).  We know from the evidence that problem drug use is related to social circumstance: job loss, experiences of poverty, childhood adversity and trauma all being factors.  This group of people were young adults of working age in Scotland in the 1980s.  Our research suggests that the social and economic circumstances they were exposed to had a significant part to play in the problems they experience.  But it is not enough to look back, we have to learn from it and move on.  Scotland is seeing an unprecedented rise in drug related deaths and each day that passes is a missed opportunity to stop them.  We must act now.

Problem drug use disproportionately affects people who experience socio-economic disadvantage.  That’s why NHS Health Scotland, where I work, advocates a public health and social justice approach, focussed on preventing harms from drug use in the first place.  We believe that policy to reduce harm from drug use must take account of the wider things that impact on our health, like housing, work, income and social connectedness, as well addressing the immediate health concerns associated with drug use itself.  This means we have to put health first.  We need a non-punitive, harm reduction approach to recovery, with rapid access to high quality treatment services that not only save lives, but improves them too.  And, at the heart of all of that is the need to tackle the stigma that comes with drug use – and its treatment.

Addressing these wider social inequalities, reducing poverty and getting people the help they need when they need it will go a long way to reduce harm from drug use – both to individuals and their families.  Drug-related deaths are preventable. The outcome we want is fewer people dying at an early age, and we need to do whatever that takes.


For further information please contact NHS Health Scotland’s Communications and Engagement Team on 07500 854574 or email [email protected]

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