The number of drug related deaths in Scotland in 2022 was at its lowest level in five years but still significantly higher than the most recent UK average, according to figures released this week by the National Records of Scotland.

And The Scotsman suggested today that the actual toll could be even higher if ‘secondary’ drug-related deaths were included in the figures.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Scotland has highlighted the role community pharmacies can play in reducing drugs related deaths, and praised the Scottish Government’s recent efforts to make naloxone more readily available in emergencies.

In 2022 there were 1,051 deaths due to drug misuse in Scotland – 279 deaths fewer than in 2021 and the lowest number since 2017.

However, this was still much higher than the 244 recorded in 1996 when the record first began.

Analysis also shows the number of people dying from drug misuse in Scotland in 2022 was 3.7 times as many as in 2000, with rates 2.7 times as high as the most recent UK average.

In 2022, opiates or opioids were implicated in 82% of all drug misuse deaths in Scotland and the highest rate of drug misuse deaths was recorded among 35- to 54-year-olds.

And over half of the drug misuse deaths recorded in Scotland in 2022 were estimated to be in the most deprived quintile in Scotland, with people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland almost 16 times as likely to die from drug misuse than in the least deprived areas.

Drug misuse deaths were twice as common among males than females in 2022, but National Records Scotland said that most of the decrease over the past year was among males.

Naloxone, which can rapidly reverse opiate overdose, has been made more available in several sites in Scotland including community pharmacies over the last few months, the RPS said.

This comes after a 2021 policy statement from the RPS on pharmacy’s role in reducing harm and preventing drug deaths, which recommends that Naloxone be made available from every community pharmacy for supply to people who use drugs, family, healthcare professionals, and carers, and that training be given to pharmacy teams in how to use it.

The policy paper also contains recommendations on how pharmacy teams can be trained to recognise signs of overdependence and drug misuse, and work within multidisciplinary teams to help people at risk.

Laura Wilson, Director of RPS Scotland, commented on the newly released statistics: ‘Every death from drug misuse is a tragedy for the individual as well as family, friends, and their wider community. Whilst the number of people dying from drug misuse in Scotland is at its lowest level for five years, the numbers are still far too high.’

She added: ‘I welcome the initial steps Scottish Government has taken, particularly to expand the availability of naloxone within community pharmacies for emergency use, and look forward to working with all stakeholders to progress some of our other recommendations; including providing access to patient records for pharmacists to enhance patient safety, managing patients’ transitions between care settings and the introduction of safer consumption facilities.’

Mohammed Fessal, the chief pharmacist at national health and social care charity Change Grow Live, has previously told The Pharmacist that more might need to be done to tackle stigma or provide education and training to help pharmacies provide addiction support, in order to increase the number of pharmacies providing the service.