Date Published: 8 August 2005

Investigation into Drug Related Deaths announced by the Scottish Executive

The Scottish Executive has today (8th August 2005) announced a new report which aims to give a better picture of the real life stories behind drug-related death statistics and help focus efforts to tackle this issue.

The National Investigation into Drug Related Deaths, 2003 was ordered by Deputy Justice Minister (for Scotland) Hugh Henry and follows the publication of figures showing a record 382 such deaths in Scotland in 2002. Published today alongside the Investigation are recommendations for action from the Scottish Advisory Committee on Drug Misuse (SACDM) Drug Related Deaths Working Group.

Mr. Henry said that every life lost to drugs represents a tragic waste and we share a responsibility to take action to reduce the toll.

The investigation found:

  • 81% of drug related deaths in 2003 were male.
  • 68% were accidental drug overdoses while 13 per cent were classified as suicides.
  • At the time of death, 48% - of overdoses occurred in the vicinity of other people..
  • 68% deaths occurred in a home environment, either in their own home or in a friend's place.
  • Although an ambulance was called to the scene in 82% of cases, for 81% victims it was already too late .
  • Another key finding was that more than one drug was detected in 95% cases.

Speaking at the 'Taking Action on Scotland's Drug-Related Deaths' conference, organised by the Scottish Executive in association with the Scottish Drugs Forum, Mr Henry said:

" Every life lost to drugs is a tragic waste. Later this month the annual statistics on drug related deaths for 2004 will be published. From information provided by our police forces already we know that drug deaths - having fallen in 2003 - have increased again.
_ That is disappointing - not because it looks bad on a graph but because it represents the scale of human misery and loss we need to work together to reduce.
_ I know there is a body of public opinion which doesn't care for the plight of drug addicts. If you have been the victim of a crime, for example a break-in or mugging carried out to help feed a habit, your understanding is likely to be tested. Some may see their fate as sealed and question why the Executive bothers trying to postpone the inevitable.
_ But we will never forget our obligation to help save lives, to provide pathways into effective treatment, and to help get lives back on track.

The national investigation found that, while hundreds of Scots lose their lives to drugs each year, many deaths could have been prevented if certain steps had been taken soon after overdose. Mr Henry added:

" The image that many people have of the addict who has taken their fatal fix is someone dying alone, crouched in a corner or a bed, and being found by friends or family when it is too late.
_ Yet this investigation has found that very often there are people around who - if they make the right call or follow the right steps - can help save a life.

Ministers will publish an action plan based on the SACDM recommendations later this year but already the Executive is:

  • Funding a First Aid Project to train drug users, their families/friends and service providers in first aid techniques and also raise awareness of the key issues related to overdose.
  • Developing a First Aid DVD, which will demonstrate the recovery position and raise awareness of dangers of overdose, for drug users and their families/friends
  • Providing funding of £350,000 to the Royal College of General Practitioners to train GPs on drug misuse management
  • And as part of our ongoing efforts to educate people about the dangers of drugs, a Know the Score awareness raising campaign about the dangers of heroin kicks off from today

Mr Henry said:

" The key to tackling the death toll will be learning the lessons from this investigation and strengthening further the close co-operation between agencies - the police, drug action teams, the NHS, local government and throughout the voluntary sector. Together we can save lives and begin the process of turning them around.
_ People do come back from the brink. People have taken a second chance. It is our responsibility to do whatever we can to prevent lives being lost and opportunities wasted. It is the responsibility of us all to work towards a safer, stronger Scotland.

Following the publication of figures showing a record 382 drug-related in Scotland in 2002, Hugh Henry ordered a National Investigation into the facts behind every one of the deaths in 2003.

Source: Scottish Executive (PR)

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