1. Introduction

1.1 This annual publication provides statistics of drug-related deaths which were registered in Scotland over the period from 1996. The figures were produced using a definition of ‘drug-related deaths’ which was introduced in 2001 for the ‘baseline’ figures for the UK Drugs Strategy. This definition was agreed by a working party set up following the publication, by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, of a report on ‘Reducing drug related deaths’. The Office for National Statistics has also prepared data on drug-related deaths in England and Wales using this definition. These statistics are used in the development of policy by the Scottish Government and by a number of other interested parties such as NHS Boards and local Alcohol and Drug Partnerships. The Scottish Government has worked with other interested parties to develop new arrangements for advice on drug-related matters, and the Partnership for Action on Drugs in Scotland was established in January 2016.

1.2 Section 2 gives some background on the collection of information on drug-related deaths in Scotland. Section 3 describes the figures for Scotland, Section 4 covers the statistics for NHS Board areas, and Section 5 refers to the figures for Council areas and the potential problems that may affect the figures for these and smaller areas. Annex A sets out the definition of drug-related deaths used here, Annex B refers to some other definitions of drug-related deaths, and gives figures for them and for deaths from some other causes that may be associated with present or past drug misuse. Annex C provides some References and Annex D contains the questionnaire used to collect further information about drug-related deaths with effect from 2014. Annex E covers so-called New Psychoactive Substances, and Annex F explains the basis of the consistent series of drug-related death numbers, and AAnnex G provides some information about how Scotland's figures compare with those of various other European countries. The tables and charts can be grouped as follows:

In the tables, ‘..’ indicates ‘not available’ or ‘not applicable’. There may be slight discrepancies between some of the figures in different tables for some of the years from 2000 to 2006, due to the use of a new database (as explained in paragraph A4 of Annex A).

1.3 The following improvements have been made for this edition:

1.4 Users of the statistics are reminded that, with effect from the 2009 edition of this publication, the standard basis of the figures for individual drugs for 2008 and subsequent years is ‘drugs which were implicated in, or which potentially contributed to, the cause of death’. Section 2 of the 2009 edition included an explanation of why there was a change from the basis which was used before then (‘all drugs which were [reported as having been] found present in the body’), which did not actually cover all drugs in all cases. Some information about this is given in paragraphs paragraphs 2.3 to 2.5 of this edition.

1.5 Table 6 allows users of the statistics to compare the figures for the latest year on the two bases, and also shows how the numbers on the two bases for the latest year break down by sex and by age-group. In addition, alternative versions of Tables HB3 and C3 are available on this web site (via links from the pages which give access to the editions for 2008 onwards), providing figures for NHS Boards and councils on the following bases:

1.6 More detailed statistical information about the nature and circumstances of people whose deaths were drug-related is available in the reports from the NHS's National Drug Related Deaths Database, which are described briefly in paragraph B9 of Annex B.

1.7 Some of the figures for 2013 to 2015 that were published in the previous edition have been revised slightly, following corrections to the drug name ‘look-up table’ that is used to determine (for example) whether each drug that has been reported as being found in a body is one that should be counted as a controlled substance for the purpose of the standard definition that is used to produce these statistics (refer to paragraph A4 of Annex A). An error in the look-up table entry for one drug led to one death wrongly not being counted as drug related. Correcting the error has raised the total number of drug-related deaths registered in 2014 from 613 to 614. Some of the other figures (for example the number of males, the number aged 55-64) have also increased as result. An error in the look-up table entry for another drug led to some deaths wrongly being counted as ones for which diazepam was implicated in, or contributed to, the cause of the death (one death in 2013, two in 2014 and seven in 2015), and as ones for which diazepam was found to be present in the body. The latter error did not affect the number of drug-related deaths, or any of the other figures for those years.