1,339 people lost their lives to a drug-related death in Scotland in 2020, according to an annual report from the National Records of Scotland.

The toll represents the highest number of drug-related deaths ever recorded in Scotland, for the seventh consecutive year.

Although significant contributions have been made across the country to impact on the current drug deaths crisis, the latest figures suggest that efforts to save lives have been challenged during the pandemic.

Dr Tara Shivaji, Consultant at Public Health Scotland (PHS), said:

“The tragic announcement today highlights that Scotland is still currently facing two national public health crises, that of COVID-19 and also a continuing increase in preventable drug overdose deaths.

“In seven years, the number of people affected has grown exponentially – not only including those who have sadly lost their lives, but also their families, friends and communities who they leave behind.

“Last year, COVID-19 brought extreme challenges to us all, especially those who rely on services to support them with their substance use problems. We must recognise that there have been enormous efforts to continue to provide health and social care services during this challenging time.

“Stepping up efforts to reverse the drugs death crisis will require action on underlying factors that the pandemic has brought sharply into focus. Isolation, digital exclusion, and financial hardship or uncertainty, all contribute to the precarious position that people find themselves in and increase their risk of experiencing harm”.

PHS has supported work to understand the impact of the pandemic on people who are marginalised or face social exclusion. This includes collaborating with local and national partners to develop a surveillance system to highlight changes in access to services, prescribing of opiate substitution therapy as well as indicators of harm, such as non-fatal overdoses.

Furthermore, in collaboration with the Scottish Drugs Deaths Taskforce, PHS is leading the development and implementation of an early warning system which will support the detection and early response to overdose clusters.

This is in addition to supporting the development and implementation of the Medication Assisted Treatment Standards, which will improve the quality of treatment, care and support services in Scotland for people who use substances

View the ‘Drug-related deaths in Scotland 2020’ report (external website)


Last updated: 06 October 2022