The number of people dying a drug-related death in Scotland has fallen for the first time since 2013, official statistics show.
Some 1,330 people lost their lives from drugs misuse in 2021 – nine fewer that the previous year, according to the latest figures published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS).
However, it is still the second highest annual total on record.
It is a 1% decrease from 2020, when 1,339 people died a drug-related death.
Opioids continue to be the main cause of drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2021, accounting for 84% of all deaths.
However, a change in the type of drugs that are implicated in deaths has been highlighted by the report, with benzodiazepines accounting for 918 deaths.
The number of deaths involving benzodiazepines has increased almost five times since 2015 when there were 191.
Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative and include drugs such as diazepam and etizolam.
These latest statistics provide yet more heart-breaking reading, and the situation remains unacceptableAngela Constance, Drugs Policy Minister
The increase has mostly been attributed to street drugs rather than those which are prescribed, according to the data.
More than two thirds – 70% – of those who died from drugs were men, while 65% of all people who lost their lives were between the ages of 35 and 54 years old, NRS data showed.
Dundee City had the highest drug misuse death rate of all local authorities, with 45.2 deaths per 100,000 population from 2017 to 2021, followed by Glasgow City, with 44.4 and Inverclyde, 35.7.
Julie Ramsay, Vital Events Statistician at NRS, said that those in the most deprived areas were more than 15 times as likely to die a drug-related death than their least deprived counterparts.
She said: “Drug misuse deaths have increased substantially over the past few decades – there were more than five times as many deaths in 2021 compared with 1996. 2021 is the first year since 2013 that drug misuse deaths have not increased.
“In 2021, after adjusting for age, people in the most deprived areas were more than 15 times as likely to have a drug misuse death as those in the least deprived areas. This ratio has widened over the past two decades.”
In 2020, the most recent year available for the rest of the UK, Scotland’s drug misuse rate was 3.7 times that for the UK as a whole and higher than any other European country.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Every death to drugs is the loss of an individual who was loved and valued.
“So while it is welcome that deaths in 2021 were slightly down on year before – and that year on year increase since 2013 has halted – we know there is much more to do to address this unacceptable crisis.”
Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance has welcomed the decrease in drug death figures.
But Ms Constance said the current situation remained “unacceptable”.
The Scottish Government announced funding of £250 million over the parliamentary term to tackle the crisis.
She said: “Scotland suffers a terrible toll from drug deaths, leaving families grieving and in pain and my heart goes out to all those affected by the death of a loved one through drugs.
“These latest statistics provide yet more heart-breaking reading, and the situation remains unacceptable.
“While there is so much more work to do, every life saved means one less family grieving and I am determined we can use this halt in the upward trend of recent years as a platform for real change.”
The Drugs Policy Minister will visit a residential rehab centre in Auchincruive, Ayr, on Thursday to look at the treatment options available.