The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland has soared to its worst level on record, but Grampian appears to be bucking the trend.
Last year 1,264 people from across the country died from drug-related reasons – a rate higher than all EU countries and more than three times the UK as a whole.
There were 77 more deaths than in 2018, when a record-high total was also recorded, marking a 6% increase in the last year.
Figures from The National Records Of Scotland (NRS) show the average number of drug-related deaths has more than doubled in a decade.
Between 2015 and 2019 an average of 992 fatalities was recorded each year – well above the 466 average logged from 2005 to 2009.
This included a jump from 42 to 79 in Grampian.
The statistics show 82 people died from drug-related reasons in Grampian during 2019 – a decrease of 10 from the previous year.
And in the Highlands there were 24 deaths – down from 45 the year before, and the lowest number recorded since 2013.
Outside of the northern and western isles, where the numbers are too low to meaningfully compare, the only other area reporting a drop was Borders.
Aberdeen charity Alcohol and Drugs Action is offering support seven days a week via phone and email.
Chief executive Fraser Hoggan said: “Hopefully we are seeing the numbers going the other way, but we can’t get too excited as the overall picture is worsening over time.
“Any number is too high, and it remains extremely high, but these numbers are the lowest we’ve seen in a few years.”
Mr Hoggan said he could not be “100% sure” as to why the number of drug-related deaths in Grampian decreased.
“There are complex factors outwith our control here, like the substances available and the cost, which all vary from area to area,” he said.
“And once a substance gets to a person there are other factors at play like any underlying health conditions or their age.
“These may have a bearing on the overall picture.
“I’m not sure we’re doing anything radically different to any other area – maybe we’re being more successful, or it’s a combination of that and the substances people are taking.”
Causes of drug-related deaths
The NRS statistics also provide further insight into the causes of drug-related deaths.
Of the 82 logged in Grampian last year, 76 are related to accidental overdoses while three were deemed intentional.
Nationally, heroin and morphine were involved in more deaths than any previous year at 645 – more than half the Scottish total.
Methadone was involved in 560 fatalities while benzodiazepines, such as diazepam and tranquiliser alprazolam – which has the brand name Xanax – were in 999 and cocaine in 365.
Grampian had the highest rate of deaths involving “prescribable” benzodiazepines, at 44%, compared to a national backdrop of 15%.
More than half the fatalities in the area were also linked to cocaine and heroin.
Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy and I would like to offer my condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of those who have lost their lives.
“The Scottish Government is doing everything in its powers to tackle rising drug deaths and we are working urgently to put in place high-quality, person-centred services for those most at risk.”
He said steps taken by the Scottish Government and its partners include investing up to £93.5 million this year to tackle problem alcohol and drug misuse.
He added: “These deaths stem from a long-standing and complex set of challenges, and there is no shortcut that will suddenly solve this.
“There is, however, action that we are taking right now that will have an impact more immediately, such as maximising the availability of (overdose-reversing medication) Naloxone and the routes by which it can be supplied.”