The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Scotland is calling on the Government and the pharmacy sector to work together to reduce drug harms in the country, following the publication of ‘shameful’ new drug-death data.

A record number of 1,339 people in Scotland died last year from drug misuse, National Records of Scotland, the statistics agency, has said.

This is the seventh year in a row that the country's number of drug-related deaths has soared. An increase of 75 deaths, from 1,264, was recorded in last year (2020).

The findings, published today (30 July), revealed that opiates such as methadone were found in the bodies of 1,192 people who had died while benzodiazepines such as diazepam were found in 974.

Gabapentin or pregabalin was implicated in a further 502 deaths, according to the data.

Laura Wilson, RPS Scotland policy and practice lead, said the new data was ‘concerning’ as ‘many of these deaths are preventable.

‘Pharmacists, and pharmacy teams, already play a big role in supporting and providing treatment to people who use drugs, as well as offering harm reduction services and advice. The RPS wants to build on this fantastic work by enabling them to do even more to reduce harm from drugs,’ she said.

She also called on the Scottish Government and the pharmacy sector to ‘work together to reduce harm from drugs and improve the health of people who use drugs.

‘We are also asking for significant resources, expertise and finance to be made available,’ she added.

Nicola Sturgeon: Number of lives lost is unacceptable

Reacting to the publication of the figures on Twitter, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister said: ‘The number of lives lost to drugs is unacceptable, each one a human tragedy.

‘The Scottish Government does not shirk responsibility and we are determined to make changes that will save lives. These 2020 figures (though no less shameful because of it) predate actions set out at the start of the year.’

This comes after RPS published a policy document last month, which addressed pharmacy’s role in reducing drug harm and preventing drug deaths in Scotland.

Among several recommendations the body called for naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids, to be made available in every pharmacy across Scotland, and for all pharmacy staff to be trained in using it.

RPS also recommended that community pharmacies should be used more to host targeted public health campaigns around a dependence on prescribed, illicit, and over-the-counter medications.