Shocking figures have revealed that an average of 10 drug users now die every month in northern Scotland – including one tragedy each week in Aberdeen.
Campaigners and politicians demanded action last night after the grim statistics showed that a total of 123 people in the area had lost their lives last year because of drugs, the highest number on record.
Aberdeen alone was the scene of 54 drug-related deaths in 2017, by far the most in the Granite City in any year since the data was first collated in 1996.
The figure, which was up from 46 in 2016 and more than double the 23 recorded in Aberdeen a decade ago, was the fourth highest for a Scottish council area last year.
In Aberdeenshire, the number of drug-related fatalities doubled from 12 to a new record of 24 between 2016 and 2017 and was a marked increase on the four deaths recorded in the region in 1996.
There were two drug deaths in Highland in 1996, but last year 24 lives were lost in the region, up from 19 the year before and equalling the previous record from 2015.
Drug deaths on the Western Isles increased from one to a record-equalling three in the past year, while in Shetland the number rose from one to two, and in Orkney there was one, the same number as the previous two years.
However, in Moray the number of overdoses and other fatalities fell from 10 to seven last year, while in Argyll and Bute they dropped from 10 to eight.
Across Scotland, drug-related deaths increased last year by 8% to 934 – the largest number ever recorded in the nation, as well as the highest level in Europe and roughly two-and-a-half times the rate of the UK.
David Liddell, chief executive officer at the Scottish Drugs Forum, said more than 10,000 people had now died in Scotland since the figures were first issued in 1996 – the equivalent of a town the size of Fort William, Ellon or Inverurie.
“What we need to do is help people address the issues they have in their lives,” he said.
“That means them being allowed and supported to engage with the health and other services they require.”
Liam Kerr, north-east MSP and Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, said north-east residents would be “shocked” by the data.
“This should act as a wake-up call for an SNP government that is a soft-touch when it comes to justice,” he added:
John Finnie, Scottish Green MSP for the Highlands and islands and co-convenor of Holyrood’s cross party group on drug and alcohol misuse, said the Scottish Government must deliver a “serious overhaul” of its drugs strategy, linked to housing, health and income.
“And we cannot shy away from a discussion on decriminalisation, as most drug use should be tackled as a public health issue rather than a crime,” he added.
Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “We will continue to do all we can to prevent others from experiencing similar heartbreak and we are developing a refreshed substance use strategy.
“This is in direct response to the changing drugs landscape, the continued rise in drug related deaths and the recognition that current services do not meet the needs of all the people who need support.”