Scots drug deaths remain ‘shockingly high’

Drug-related deaths in Scotland have topped a thousand for the fifth year in a row, 2022 figures have shown.

National Records of Scotland (NRS) reported that 1,051 people died of drug misuse in 2022 – a rate of almost 20 deaths per 100,000 people.

The rate of drug-related deaths in Scotland was 2.7 times greater than the UK average in 2021, and remains the worst in Europe.


NRS data showed that the highest rate of drug-related deaths was among people aged 35 to 54, with men twice as likely to die as women.

Over 80 per cent of all deaths were linked to opioids such as heroin and methadone, and approximately eight in ten people had more than one drug in their body when they died.

Seven per cent of drug misuse deaths were classed as “intentional self-poisonings”.

The report revealed that people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland were nearly 16 times more likely to die than those in the most prosperous areas.

‘National tragedy’

Although there were 279 fewer deaths than in 2021, the Scottish Government admitted that the 2022 level was “still too high”.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross MSP said that while the latest numbers indicated some progress, it was from an “utterly catastrophic base”.

Jackie Baillie, the Scottish Labour health spokeswoman, said: “The fact that we are still seeing such shockingly high levels of drug deaths in Scotland is a national tragedy.”

The reduction over the year was cautiously welcomed by Roy Robertson, Professor of Addiction Medicine at Edinburgh University, but he noted that there had been “an increase in the number of drug deaths in the last quarter of 2022”, suggesting we may see another rise in 2023.


Last month, Westminster rejected Scottish Government proposals to decriminalise all drugs for personal use and introduce heroin shooting galleries.

Scotland’s Drugs Policy Minister Elena Whitham claimed that “criminalisation increases the harms people experience. Criminalisation kills”.

But a Home Office spokesperson responded: “Illegal drugs destroy lives and devastate communities.” They added: “We have no plans to decriminalise drugs given the associated harms”.

While drugs legislation is handled by Westminster, the Scottish Government has control over its approach to tackling the problem of drugs.

‘Necessary constraint’

Earlier this month, The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director Simon Calvert told TWR-UK: “Drug laws act as a necessary constraint for the good of all society.

“Without them, of course it sends a message that taking drugs is OK, that drugs are harmless, and it leads to even more lives being damaged.”

In the face of growing evidence of the damaging effects of liberalising drug laws, he described the Scottish Government’s proposals as “astounding”, and urged it to step back from the edge on decriminalisation.

Also see:

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Public Health Scotland: ‘Minimum alcohol pricing saving lives’