About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) presents estimates of the number of people aged 15 to 64 years old with opioid dependence, along with estimates of the prevalence of this group among Scotland’s general population.

Estimates for Scotland and three NHS Boards (Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lothian and Tayside) are provided, stratified by sex (female, male), age group (15 to 34, 35 to 49 and 50 to 64 years) and financial year (2014/15 to 2019/20).

This is the first report from a public health surveillance collaboration between PHS, the University of Bristol, and Glasgow Caledonian University. Plans to further develop these statistics are described in the Official statistics in development report.

Main points

Estimates are presented with 95% credible intervals (CrI) to represent the extent of uncertainty around each finding. All population size estimates have been rounded to the nearest hundred. See the Glossary in the main report for more information about any technical terms used.

In 2019/20:

  • The estimated number of people with opioid dependence in Scotland was 47,100 (95% Credible Interval (CrI) 45,700 to 48,600). This represents an estimated prevalence of 1.32% (95% CrI: 1.28% to 1.37%) of 15- to 64-year-olds.
  • Among males aged 15 to 64 years, the prevalence of opioid dependence was estimated to be 1.85% (95% CrI: 1.79% to 1.91%). Among females aged 15 to 64 years, it was estimated to be 0.82% (95% CrI: 0.79% to 0.85%).
  • The prevalence of opioid dependence was estimated as 0.87% (95% CrI: 0.82% to 0.94%) among people aged 15 to 34 years, 2.67% (95% CrI: 2.59% to 2.76%) among people aged 35 to 49 years, and 0.65% (95% CrI: 0.62% to 0.69%) among people aged 50 to 64 years.
  • By NHS Board, the estimated prevalence of opioid dependence was 1.77% (95% CrI: 1.69% to 1.85%) in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 1.25% (95% CrI: 1.18% to 1.33%) in Lothian and 1.36% (95% CrI: 1.28% to 1.45%) in Tayside.
  • An estimated 61% of people with opioid dependency received opioid agonist therapy (OAT) at some point during the year, while 74% had received OAT at some point during the period 2015/16 to 2019/20.

The overall prevalence of opioid dependence was relatively stable from 2014/15 to 2019/20. Over the same time period, there was a reduction in opioid dependence among 15- to 34-year-olds and an increase among 50- to 64-year-olds.


All estimates in this report were calculated using a recently developed statistical modelling approach, 'Multi-Parameter Estimation of Prevalence' (MPEP). MPEP brings multiple linked data sources together to make inferences about the size of the population and its prevalence. In this instance, the model used linked PHS-held administrative data on opioid agonist therapy (OAT) prescriptions, drug-related deaths and overdose hospital admissions from the Scottish Public Health Drug Linkage Programme.

Further details about the MPEP approach and key assumptions underpinning the results are listed in the Methods section of the report. A more detailed description of the methodology used, and results from sensitivity analyses exploring some of these assumptions, will be available in a forthcoming accompanying journal article.

As with the results of any statistical modelling, the estimates described in this report may be subject to change as new data (additional years or event types) are incorporated into the model.

Further information

The next release of this publication will be March 2025.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please contact Lee Barnsdale at phs.drugsteam@phs.scot.

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Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
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