The number of drug-related deaths in the Borders has doubled in the past year.
In 2017, there were 10 drug-related deaths, a figure roughly in line with the previous five years, but last year 21 Borders residents lost their lives to drugs.
An NHS Borders spokesperson said: “In the Scottish Borders, the trend for drug-related deaths is increasing and reflects the national picture.
“Every death is a tragedy and impacts on families and friends.
“In 2018, there were 21 drug-related deaths, up from 10 in 2017.
“Reasons for problematic drug use are complex and include both personal and social circumstances.
“People who have experienced adverse childhood experiences – including physical and sexual abuse, neglect, bereavement and abandonment, as well as adult trauma such as imprisonment and homelessness – are all personal drivers for problem drug use.
“In addition, social circumstances that play a role in problem drug use include poverty and inequality.
“Once someone experiences a drug problem, they have more limited means to escape poverty and their chances of gaining paid employment are affected, even in recovery.”
NHS Borders says it is taking action in response to the increase, including meeting partners at a range of other agencies.
That includes reviewing the circumstances of each drug-related death to identify scope for learning and promote best practice, and the health board has commissioned an outreach service to work with people who find it difficult to engage and remain in drug services.
That service is currently recruiting and will work with Scottish Borders Council, Police Scotland and other health sector organisations.
The NHS spokesperson continued: “Staff overdose prevention training sessions are available, and risk factors for drug-related deaths are highlighted in all training events coordinated by our alcohol and drugs partnership.
“Access to high-quality treatment and recovery services for people in need is a priority.
“In the last three months, 100% of individuals referred to alcohol and drug services started treatment within three weeks.”
Those figures were reported by Tim Patterson, joint director of public health for Scottish Borders Council and NHS Borders, at a full meeting of the former yesterday, May 16, held at the Tait Hall in Kelso.
Responding to them, Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall commented: “I think many people will be alarmed at how drug-related deaths in our region have more than doubled in a year, and I think the amount of drug paraphernalia found on our streets is also on the increase.
“It is quite clear that the Scottish Borders has a huge mountain to climb in order to address this situation and, in turn, reduce these extremely worrying statistics.
“Drug-related deaths are distressing, not only for the community but more importantly for the families that are affected, and all of us who are public servants have a duty to work with NHS Borders, Addaction, the partnership and other partners in order to start seriously attempting to drive down these figures.
“It is vitally important that people suffering from drug addiction are given the highest quality of treatment possible.”
Dr Patterson also told the council chamber that naloxone, a medication used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opiate overdose, was used to save lives 39 times in the region in 2018.