A national tragedy - Drug-related death figures reveal almost two overdose deaths every day in Scotland

"Rather than focusing on individuals and blaming their ‘lifestyle’ we need to understand how we as a society have failed and continue to fail so many people."

The 706 deaths announced on the 17th of August are individual tragedies for those who have died and for their friends and family.  The impact of a death on parents, partners and children can be devastating.  These deaths are also a national tragedy for Scotland.  These are the ultimate indicators of Scotland’s health inequalities. 

The deaths are heavily concentrated in our poorest communities and if you look behind the lives of most people who have died you will find a life of disadvantage often starting with a troubled early life.

Rather than focusing on individuals and blaming their ‘lifestyle’ we need to understand how we as a society have failed and continue to fail so many people.

These deaths are not in themselves inevitable; they are preventable.  We know enough about how to protect people and the times at which people are at particular risk but our systems and services are failing to prevent these deaths.

The evidence is clear.  A number of countries have reduced overdose deaths to very small numbers.  They have done this through providing effective treatment and care services based on a clear evidence-based vision of what can be achieved and how.

We have 61,500 people in Scotland with a drug problem and less than half of the people in this group are in treatment and care services at any point in time.  We know that being in effective treatment protects people against dying of an overdose so we need to look at ways to increase the reach and retention rates of services.

We also have to look at the quality of those services.  Still, we have substantial numbers of people on sub-optimal doses of methadone.  This means that prescribers are not following clinical guidance on best practice but are carrying out practices based on their perceptions of what is best.  A person-centred evidence-based approach to prescribing would be a significant contribution to reducing the range of circumstances that make deaths more likely.  We also need to see new provision reaching out to the most vulnerable and in this regard we support the development of Supervised Injecting Facilities and Heroin Assisted Treatment.

These changes are less likely in an environment with reducing resources.  The preservation of life should be a primary aim for services it should also be a national aspiration.  We speak eloquently about equalities and inclusion in Scotland.  These figures represent a national challenge to our image of ourselves and an opportunity to show that we, as a society, care.

- David Liddell, SDF Chief Executive Officer

Click here to read the 'Drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2015' report in full.

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