Drug deaths in the north-east are at their highest level since records began in 1996, according to new figures.
There were 92 drug-related deaths in the NHS Grampian area last year, compared to 85 in 2017 and 68 in 2016.
And the figures have tripled from the 29 recorded in 1996.
Last year there were 52 drug-related deaths in the city, 23 in Aberdeenshire and 17 in Moray compared to 54, 24 and seven in each respective council area in 2017.
And last year in Aberdeen there were 24 heroin deaths, 31 due to methadone, 48 were opioid-related, 29 due to cocaine and 24 to alcohol. However, more than one drug may be attributed to each death.
Fraser Hoggan, CEO of Aberdeen-based charity Alcohol and Drugs Action (ADA), said 52 deaths in the city was “way too many”.
He added the situation needs to be seen as a health problem rather than tackled by the police and courts.
NHS reveals substance abuse plans
NHS Grampian has revealed a number of initiatives it has to help tackle the issue of substance abuse.
The health board aims to make services more accessible and increase the availability of naloxone, a drug that can temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose.
It also plans to increase the availability of substance misuse services and reach out to people classed as “high risk”, as well as working with police and councils.
Dr Tara Shivaji, NHS Grampian consultant in public health, said: “The rise is partly explained by the fact that using illegal drugs over a long period takes its toll on a person’s body and makes them more vulnerable to overdose.
“In the north-east we have seen the influence of street alprazolam (Xanax) in our services as well as those reported in the drug-related deaths.
“With help and support, people who use substances and the loved ones who are affected can recover.
“We would encourage anyone who is concerned about themselves or a loved one to get in touch. Recovery is not easy but it is possible. There are no long waiting times.”
Mr Hoggan said: “There have been calls to deal with this as a public health emergency and we really need to do something different here.
“We need to pull some of the big levers and treat this a health issue and not a justice issue.
“We really need to help people find the right support and that involves investing in harm reduction. It is really important we take the politics out of this.”
Sandra Ross, chief officer with the Aberdeen health and social partnership, said: “Aberdeen City Alcohol and Drugs Partnership will soon be publishing its new delivery framework, which maps out detailed and measurable plans to tackle substance misuse problems in Aberdeen.
“Drug misuse and its impacts upon individuals, families and broader society requires a whole-system approach and for many different agencies to work closely together.
“One of our key aims is to reduce drug-related deaths in Aberdeen to below the Scottish average over the next few years.”
The numbers of drug-related deaths for the city, Shire and Moray contributed to 1,187 deaths Scotland-wide last year.
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Figures from the National Records of Scotland show the drug death rate north of the border was nearly triple that of the UK and higher than reported for any other EU country.
The health board area with the highest proportion of drug deaths in 2018 was Greater Glasgow and Clyde at 394, followed by Lothian with 152, and Lanarkshire with 130.
Scotland’s Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said the country faces an “emergency”.
He added: “It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures to save the lives of those most at risk.
“Last week, I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee and I asked for help in persuading the UK Government to either act now to enable us to implement a range of public health focused responses – including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities – or devolve the power to the Scottish Parliament so we can act.”
Aberdeen South Tory MP Ross Thomson, who sits on the Scottish Affairs Committee, said the figures were “tragic”.
He added: “Ministers must address why the death toll is three times higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK.
“This is a crisis that requires urgent and radical action.”