College comment on drug deaths in 2023

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (“ the College”) has given its reaction to new figures from Police Scotland indicating that suspected drug deaths in Scotland increased in 2023. Police Scotland revealed that there were 1,197 suspected drug deaths between January and December 2023, 10% (105) more than during the same period of 2022 (1,092) and contrasting with a downward trend from early 2021 to late 2022. 73% of suspected drug deaths were among males while 66% of suspected drug deaths were of people aged between 35 and 54.

Commenting Prof Roy Robertson, Fellow of The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh:

Variation in figures from quarter to quarter, and from year to year, is to be expected. This is because mortality rates depend on a variety of conditions including, most importantly, the current “drug scene” and what drugs are currently in use and are most available.

There is normally a variation in the availability of heroin and other drugs and it is notable that etizolam has become less common in fatal cases, while other illicit benzodiazepines and nitrazenes have become more common.

A variation in numbers is expected and predicting what will happen next is therefore challenging. We require drug deaths data over a number of years to determine positive or negative trends.