Drug-related deaths in Scotland have risen to a record level and are forecast to get worse, according to official figures.
Drugs killed 574 people in 2008 – up from 455 the previous year. The total is a 131% increase over 1998 and up 26% on 2007.
A report from the General Register for Scotland said the number of drug-related deaths rose in eight of the past 10 years, adding: “The long-term trend seems steadily upwards.”
Last year 53 people died from drugs in Tayside – 9% of the Scottish total. The Grampian figure was 41 or 7%. The two health board areas had the third and fourth highest percentages of deaths after Greater Glasgow and Clyde (34%) and Lothian (16%). Highland recorded 24 deaths – 4% of the total.
The number of drug-related deaths in Tayside increased by 40% in 2008.
Dr Kirsty Licence, consultant in health medicine and chairwoman of the Tayside drug-related working group, said the health board, three local authorities, police, prison service and other agencies were all working to address the problem.
“The rise in drug-related deaths for Tayside, and across Scotland, is a cause of considerable concern,” she said.
The number of deaths in Grampian has been gradually declining since 2006 when there were 47 – the highest year on record along with 2002.
A joint statement from Grampian Police and NHS Grampian said: “The majority of drug-related deaths and drug-related overdose incidents have occurred in the Aberdeen City area.
“While it is disappointing that the number of these preventable deaths are not significantly decreasing, efforts continue on several fronts to address this.”
The official figures show that in the eight years between 2000-07, the AB24 postcode area of Aberdeen had 50 drug-related deaths, the highest number outside of Glasgow.
The area includes neighbourhoods such as Tillydrone, Woodside, Seaton, Powis, Froghall and parts of the city centre.
Aberdeen Central Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said the situation highlighted the need for health initiatives and efforts to disrupt the flow of drugs.
“Public agencies are aware of the problems and are doing their level best, but health and police funding ought to be reflecting that level of need rather than ignoring it,” he said. “At the moment there is some evidence they are not taking it seriously enough.”
The rise is put down to the ageing population of drug users.
Biba Brand, of Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “It is difficult to tell exactly why older drug users are increasingly featuring among the drug-death statistics.
“As a result, their physical health will have deteriorated and many will have become increasingly socially isolated. This could make them more vulnerable to accidental or deliberate overdose.”
Following pressure from the Tories, the Scottish Government put together the country’s first drug strategy.
In January it launched a new drug-related database to look at the circumstances behind each death to help agencies put in place the appropriate interventions.
Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said the country was suffering from a “legacy of long-term drug misuse over recent decades”.
He warned that drug-death figures could continue to rise in coming years, especially among older men.
Mr Ewing said: “We must continue to take action to tackle this issue now and for the long term.”
Tory health spokeswoman, Highlands and Islands MSP Mary Scanlon said drug-related deaths in the region had increased by 50% since 2006 as she called for more treatment facilities.
She said: “These figures are shocking. Recent data has shown that a quarter of addicts wait more than a year before being assessed and a third then wait over a year for treatment.”