John Robertson:

I shouldn’t watch Question Time. Now I can’t sleep until I explain why they were all so wrong about drug deaths in Scotland. So, three things:

  1. Drug deaths statistics are counted differently across the UK.
  2. This spike in deaths is largely among older addicts, know as the Trainspotting Generation and they are the victims of Tory economic policies in the 1980s.
  3. The Scottish Government has beaten the waiting time targets for drug treatment.

Details below:

  1. Drug deaths are counted differently in Scotland and England:

The statistics come from a source which compares these with English data which are not gathered in the same way. See this telling example on page 47:

‘It follows that some deaths could (in theory) be counted differently in, say, Scotland and England. For example, a death from intentional self-poisoning by an uncontrolled substance would be counted in Scotland (but not in England) if a controlled substance was present in the body but was not believed to have contributed to the death (because the presence of the controlled substance would not be recorded in the data for England).’

And contributing to this problem, deaths are more likely to be recorded as suicide in Scotland:

Unlike Scotland, in England and Wales, whether a death due to injury is classified as intentional or accidental depends on information provided by coroners. Narrative verdicts from coroners often do not provide information on whether the injuries were due to intentional self-harm, were accidental or were of undetermined intent. In these circumstances, coding rules mean that classification of the death defaults to ‘accidental’, and therefore suicides may be underestimated in England and Wales (and therefore also the UK).’

2. Tory economic policies in the 1980s are to blame:

Scotland’s drug death crisis is based disproportionally upon older drug users who began using heroin in the 1980s and 90s under the Tory and New Labour neoliberal economic policies which lauded greedy individualism, and which destroyed communities through a failure to create employment and a misguided war on drugs. Researchers have shown this to be a predictable and widespread phenomenon:

Drug Overdose Rates Are Highest in Places With the Most Economic and Family Distress

During the 1980s and ’90s there was a significant increase in problem drug users in Scotland, which peaked about 20 years ago. There is now an ageing population of drug addicts, mainly men, who have been using heroin for decades. Biologically they are ageing much faster than their real age and they develop multiple morbidity, particularly around respiratory diseases, liver diseases and blood-borne viruses and this adds a further vulnerability with regards to overdose deaths. Last year, more than two-thirds of drug-related deaths were aged between 35 and 54.

3. SNP Government drug treatment beats 90% waiting time target with 95% score

From the Information Services Division (ISD) for drug and alcohol treatment services between July and September 2019:

The Scottish Government set a standard that 90% of people referred for help with their drug or alcohol problem will wait no longer than three weeks for treatment that supports their recovery.

For the 5,335 people seeking drug treatment, 95.0% waited three weeks or less.

Click to access 2019-12-17-DATWT-Summary.pdf