National Records of Scotland

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Drug-related Deaths in Scotland in 2002

Drug-related Deaths in Scotland in 2002

Summary of results

Recent trends (Table 1)

4. There were 382 drug-related deaths in 2002, 50 (15%) more than in 2001 and 138 (57%) more than in 1996. Within these totals, the number of deaths of known or suspected habitual drug abusers increased substantially, from 227 in 2001 to 280 in 2002. Since 1996, the number of deaths in this category has risen by 60%. Between 2001 and 2002 there were only minor changes in the numbers of deaths coded to the other categories shown in Table 1.

Health board areas (Table 2 and Table 3)

5. Of the 382 deaths in 2002, 126 (33%) occurred in the Greater Glasgow Health Board area. Grampian with 47 (12%), and Lothian with 39 (10%), had the next highest totals. However, whilst the Greater Glasgow total showed a large increase (up from 96 in 2001 to 126 in 2002) Grampian's was virtually unchanged (only one more than the previous year) and Lothian's fell (from 54 to 39). Of the other areas there were sizeable increases in Forth Valley (up from 9 to 24) and Lanarkshire (up from 24 to 37).

6. Because of the relatively small numbers involved, particularly for some health board areas, and the possibility that more complete information has been reported in recent years, care should be taken when assessing the trends shown in Tables 1 and 2.

Age groups and sex (Table 4)

7. Most deaths (90%) were to persons aged under 45, with just over a quarter (26%) aged under 25. Of the 37 cases aged 45 and over, only 18 were known, or suspected, to be drug-dependent. Men accounted for 84% of the 382 drug-related deaths in 2002. Three-quarters (75%) of the male deaths were of known or suspected drug abusers compared to 62% of the female deaths.

Types of drug involved (Table 5 and Table 6)

8. Tables 5 and 6 give information on the involvement of selected drugs, either alone or, more commonly, in combination with other drugs. Since the tables record individual mentions of particular drugs they involve double counting of some deaths. It is believed that for the overwhelming majority of cases where morphine has been identified in post-mortem toxicological tests its presence is a result of heroin use. The tables therefore show a combined figure for 'heroin/morphine'.

9. In 2002, the drugs listed were known to be involved in 346 (91%) of the 382 deaths. Heroin/morphine was involved in 248 (65%) of the deaths; diazepam was involved in 214 (56%) of the deaths; and methadone was involved in 98 (26%) of the deaths. A wide range of drug combinations was recorded. Of particular note was the fact that diazepam was also mentioned in 157 (63%) of the 248 deaths involving heroin/morphine. The presence of alcohol was mentioned for 156 of the 382 drug-related deaths in 2002. The blood-alcohol level was not given for all cases but, where mentioned, it was often at a relatively low level.

10. Table 5 shows that there have been significant increases in the involvement of heroin/morphine, and to a slightly lesser extent diazepam, between 1996 and 2002. Between 1996 and 2000 there was a downward trend in the number of deaths involving methadone, but there has been a substantial increase over the last two years with the total (98) almost back at its 1996 level (100). Since 1996, there have also been marked increases in the smaller numbers involving cocaine and ecstasy. However, whilst the number of deaths involving cocaine increased from 19 to 31 between 2001 and 2002, the number involving ecstasy remained unchanged at 20. The table also shows a continuing decline in the number of deaths involving temazepam.

11. Table 6 shows some geographical differences in the reported involvement of certain drugs. For example, heroin/morphine was mentioned in a much larger proportion of the deaths in Greater Glasgow (96 out of 126) and Grampian (32 out of 47) than in Lothian (14 out of 39). A similar picture emerges for diazepam which was involved in 84 out of 126 of the deaths in Greater Glasgow and 22 of the 47 deaths in Grampian compared to only 9 out of 39 in Lothian. However the pattern is reversed for methadone - only 33 out of 126 deaths in Greater Glasgow and 11 out of 47 in Grampian compared to 22 out of 39 in Lothian.

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