Scottish Government
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Tackling drug deaths

Fergus Ewing today renewed the Scottish Government's pledge to tackle drug misuse by continuing work to put the Drugs Strategy into practice.

The pledge came as figures compiled by the General Register Office for Scotland show that there were 574 drug-related deaths in 2008.

Minister for Community Safety Fergus Ewing said:

"These figures demonstrate the real impact of drug misuse which extends far beyond the individual drug user - it destroys lives.

"Nothing can ever replace the loss of a loved one. That makes the aim of our drug strategy, to help more people recover from problem drug use and move into healthy drug free lives, all the more important.

"As a legacy of long-term drug misuse over recent decades, drug-related deaths may continue to rise over the next few years, especially among older men, which is exactly why we have put in place a strategy to turn the situation around. It's a long-term problem with no single solution. That is why we must continue to take action to tackle this issue now and for the long-term.

"We launched, in January this year, a new drug-related deaths database to look at the circumstances behind each death, rather than just counting numbers, so that local partners can put in place appropriate interventions.

"We are also funding overdose awareness training for drug users, their family and friends, so they know what to do in the event of an overdose. In addition, we are jointly funding research, with EU partners, that seeks to explore issues around older problem drug users because in the main these are the people who are dying.

"We know that all too often misuse of drugs and alcohol go hand in hand and these figures are proof of that with alcohol being present in around half of these deaths. This again underlines the need to tackle alcohol misuse. Our Alcohol Framework, which includes plans to introduce a minimum price and ban irresponsible promotions, aims to do just that.

"It is our duty to do everything we can to look for interventions that stop people from dying and help them rebuild their lives."

Dr Roy Robertson, Chair of the National Drug Related Death Forum said:

"A rise in numbers of deaths is always very disappointing and worrying. We do know, however, that part of the cause is the ageing population of drug users.

"The National Forum is very aware of the importance of understanding ways of reducing drug-related deaths and has identified three possible ways to do this - stopping people getting involved with drugs in the first place, especially those who inject; preventing ongoing damage with effective treatment; and helping drug users stop their damaging behaviour altogether.

"Along with other Government initiatives there are several activities which are addressing these issues. Unfortunately deaths are likely to increase for some time to come.

"Every death is important and deserves further investigation and the Forum is putting in place mechanisms to clarify the reasons behind every tragic fatal incident."

Biba Brand, of Scottish Drugs Forum said:

"It is difficult to tell exactly why older drug users are increasingly featuring among the drug death statistics. However, many will have been using drugs - primarily heroin - for a long time.

"As a result, their physical health will have deteriorated and many will have become increasingly socially isolated over the years. This could make them more vulnerable to accidental or deliberate overdose. In addition, older drug users not in treatment services can lose hope about their chances of overcoming their drug problem and living a normal life.

"SDF involvement with Europe-wide research into the needs of older drug users is at an early stage. Nevertheless, it has already become clear from these studies that treatment and rehabilitation services must be tailored to the specific needs of older drug users. This will be vital if more people are to come into - and stay with - services which play such a vital part in the recovery process."

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