Death toll claimed by drugs in Borders up 70% in a year to new record high

Methadone is now killing more Scots than heroin, figures reveal.
Methadone is now killing more Scots than heroin, figures reveal.

The death toll claimed by drugs in the Borders has hit a record high, figures out today, July 16, reveal.

Latest statistics from the National Records of Scotland reveal that 22 people were killed in the Borders last year, up 70% on the previous high of 13 recorded the year before.

That rate of increase is more than double the figure for Scotland as a whole, up 27% to 1,187, also a record high.

It means the death toll taken by drugs in Scotland is the worst in Europe and three times the UK-wide rate.

Today’s figures also reveal that methadone, the medication prescribed by the National Health Service as a replacement for heroin, contributed to nearly half of those near 1,200 deaths, killing more people than the drug it is supposed to be a safer substitute for.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont has hit out at the Scottish Government over that rocketing death toll, urging it to rethink its policies for tackling drug addiction.

“These figures really need to be a wake-up call for the SNP. On its watch, drug deaths have more than doubled and Scotland is now the drug death capital of Europe,” he said.

“Even in the Borders, where drug deaths are relatively uncommon, the number of deaths has shot up by 70% in the last year.

“The Scottish Government’s excuse for these appalling statistics is that drug classification is reserved to Westminster. However, if this was a major factor, Scotland’s drug death rate wouldn’t be three times higher than the rest of the UK.

“The truth is that health, social care, the methadone programme and justice policy are all controlled by Holyrood.

“Instead of excuses, we need a change of approach and significant investment in rehabilitation.

“We have heard time and time again from former users and experts that the current approach in Scotland focuses on simply managing users rather than helping them off drugs.

“People are parked on methadone, which is now causing more deaths than heroin, but there is little incentive to stop using.

“That is why I am concerned about the calls for safe consumption rooms. It’s just another example of trying to manage problem drug users rather than actually helping people come off drugs.”

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton agrees, saying: “It is a damning indictment of decades of failed drug and alcohol policies under Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP governments that we see Scotland today now record the highest drug deaths anywhere in Europe.

“We need to see a new approach which firstly ends drug and alcohol partnerships being the Cinderella service in the NHS.

“Cuts by the SNP government to alcohol and drug partnerships in the past have fuelled this problem.

“It is time the government acted to ensure that drug deaths do not continue to rise and ruin our communities further.”

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame is also concerned about the rise in fatalities attributable to drugs, saying: “The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking, and the Scottish Government has, rightly, said that what Scotland faces in terms of drug-related deaths is an emergency.

“The Scottish Government is prepared to take forward bold, innovative, evidence-based approaches, even if at first they may be challenging.

“Reasons for drug use are hugely complex and there is never a simple answer, but it is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue to save lives.

“The fact of the matter is people don’t die in safe consumption facilities. If these facilities were offered as an alternative to people who are currently using drugs in unsafe environments, lives would be saved.

“This is why the Scottish Government is calling on Westminster to give it the powers to introduce these and to design drugs policy that meets Scotland’s specific needs. I’d suggest Mr Lamont puts politics aside for a minute and looks at the evidence on this.

“Of course, safe consumption rooms must go hand in hand with rehabilitation services to better meet the needs of those most at risk, and its new alcohol and drug strategy, published last November, demonstrates the Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to this.”

Tim Patterson, director of public health for the Borders, added: “In the Scottish Borders, the trend for drug-related deaths reflects the national picture.

“Drug use is frequently a sign of other complex social circumstances such as experiences of trauma, family breakdown and poverty.

“Every death is a tragedy and impacts on families and friends.

“In the Borders, we have set up a multi-agency drug-related death review group, which is looking at interventions aimed at reducing drug-related deaths at local level.

All drug-related deaths are reviewed, and any implications for policy or practice are then taken back through members to their organisations for progression, facilitated by an outcomes reporting template for each review.

“In addition, NHS Borders’ alcohol and drugs Partnership continues to take a proactive approach to tackling the increased prevalence of problem drug use.

“A new multi-agency assertive engagement service has been commissioned from April 2019 which aims to remove barriers to accessing drug and alcohol services and reduce the harms associated with problem alcohol and drug use.”

Today’s statistics can be found at www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files//statistics/drug-related-deaths/2018/drug-related-deaths-18-pub.pdf