Are Drug Related Deaths Really on the Decline?

New statistics indicate that deaths related to drug poisoning have decreased for a second year in a row in Scotland. While this is certainly welcome news, the statistics do not paint a complete picture. The recently released figures do not account for new trends in drug abuse, such as addiction to prescription medication. There is certainly scope to increase our knowledge of drug abuse in the UK and bring help those who require it.

Figures released by the Register General say that deaths in Scotland by drug poisoning have fallen for a second year consecutively and are 11 percent lower than in 2009. Opiate based drugs such as heroin, morphine and methadone make up the vast majority of deaths with drugs such as benzodiazepines contributing to the rest. Although the Scottish figures are very encouraging it must not be forgotten that over the past 10 years, six years evidenced rises in drug usage and that the increase in prescription medication has been shown to have doubled in the past two years.   This suggests the possibility that drug users could simply be swapping street drugs for prescription based medication which would not have been accounted for in the statistics.

David Liddell, Director of the Scottish Drugs Forum says that "The biggest issue is that Scotland’s death toll from drug problems remains unacceptably high. If you look at the rate of drug-related deaths among the drug using population, Scotland has similar rates to our European neighbours. But if you look at the rate of drug-related deaths compared to the overall population, Scottish people are seven times more likely to die from a drug-related death than their European counterparts.  It was vital that people had swift access to high quality treatment while the government needed to invest in the kind of social, educational and employment opportunities which help to stem the flow of new recruits our most vulnerable young people – into damaging drug use"

According to the Office for National Statistics, in the rest of the UK in 2010 we saw a drop in deaths caused by drug poisoning of 5% in comparison with figures for 2009. Statistics show that heroin was the main cause of drug poisonings in 2010, with males accounting for the majority of deaths totalling 70% of all drug related deaths.

These numbers reflect a recent similar study from Glasgow University’s Centre for Drug Misuse Research published by the National Treatment Agency which found that people living in England in 2010 were using less heroin and crack, citing figures falling by 321,000 from the previous year.

It is important to keep a clear perspective when looking at statistics.  This requires looking with some depth into what has been taken into account and what has not. Whilst a decline in figures sounds on the surface to be just the news we all want to hear is it taking into account new trends for drug usage? Is it covering a wide enough range of use? These are just some of the questions we should be seeking to answer in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of trends.

Tracy Collins 2011

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