In July 2019, it was reported that Scotland now has the highest drug deaths per capita in the European Union.

Statistics were revealed by National Records of Scotland, which showed that the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland rose to 1,187 in 2018 – 27% higher than the previous year, and the highest since records began in 1996.

Calls have been made for a cross-party approach in response to these alarming figures. Opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament have called for the Scottish Government to declare a public health emergency, and for nationally coordinated action involving local authorities, police and health boards.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh intends to investigate problem drug usage through a series of discussions with experts. By doing so, the College seeks to examine the landscape around the increased use of illegal drugs in Scotland, and consider what further steps policymakers could take.

The College believes that Scotland can only tackle the drugs problem through a “whole systems approach” – and clinicians will be an important component of that.

As the College discusses drug deaths in Scotland, it is important to be mindful of perspectives from other nations within the UK, and internationally. This will remain a strong theme as the College discusses the issue.

Professor Derek Bell, President of The Royal College of Physicians said:

Health experts were rightly alarmed when July’s drug death statistics were published. The Public Health Minister in Scotland, Joe Fitzpatrick MSP, was correct to describe the statistics as ‘shocking’.

Scotland has unfortunately had a history with problem drug usage – thinking back to the 1980s particularly, when we had a sudden influx of cheap heroin.

As a Medical Royal College based in Scotland, we feel that it is important to discuss this issue not only from a clinical perspective, but to establish how we may work with other stakeholders in a whole-systems approach.

This is an international problem which requires local solutions.

Roy Robertson, GP and Professor of Addiction Medicine, Edinburgh University said:

I am pleased that the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh is continuing to take an interest in the reasons behind the rise in Scottish drug deaths. It is such a critical issue and urgently requires attention of all those in a position to help and support people who are at risk.

Scotland has a history of innovation and a new facility is shortly opening in Glasgow in response to the HIV transmission problem. Other changes are necessary to transform the sector and this will require imagination and commitment.

As part of the discussion around problem drug usage in Scotland, it’s vital that we consider approaches in other parts of the world, and I therefore anticipate that we could draw upon international voices to contribute to the debate.

Paul Gillen

Contact: Paul Gillen 0131 247 3658