A record number of people died in Scotland last year as a result of drug abuse with almost half of them aged over 35, new official records show.
The figures from the General Register Office for Scotland show that some people who used drugs 20 years ago are now suffering from health problems leading to premature death.
Last year there were 574 drug-related deaths in Scotland which is twice as many as ten years ago.
The General Register Office for Scotland reported that the long-term trend of drug deaths “appears to be steadily upwards”.
Heroin or morphine was present in the bodies of 336 people and methadone, the state-sanctioned heroin substitute, was found in 181.
A spokeswoman for the 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.”
The Scottish Government said in 2008 it was to move away from using methadone treatment schemes and instead help users to become drug-free.
But in 2008 the Scottish Government actually increased its spending on methadone by 19 per cent.
The Scottish Government estimates that the drug problem costs taxpayers £2.6 billion each year. In 2008 there were an estimated 22,000 drug abusers on the methadone programme in Scotland.
Commenting on the new figures leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Annabel Goldie, said: “The attempts of the last decade to merely manage the problem, based on harm reduction and an over reliance on methadone, have not worked.”
Cathy Jamieson, Scottish Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, said: “The sad fact is that the SNP are losing the battle against illegal drugs”.