Figures for suspected drug deaths in Scotland, 2021

22 March 2022

Article: 56/1111

On 15 March 2022, the Scottish Government published their latest quarterly report on the number of suspected drug deaths during 2021. Suspected drug death management information from Police Scotland show there were 1,295 deaths between January and December 2021, indicating a fall of 8%, or 116 deaths, from 2020, when the equivalent number of suspected drug deaths had been recorded at 1,411, though official statistics from National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed the confirmed number of drug-related deaths in 2020 was 1,339. 

For 2021, the figures show that:

  • males accounted for 73% of suspected drug deaths, which represents a 3% decrease from 2020
  • just over two-thirds of suspected drug deaths were in people aged between 35 and 54 years old
  • the number of suspected drug deaths in the under-25 age group was 68, which is 20 fewer than 2020
  • there were 288 suspected drug deaths in the last quarter of 2021, between October and December, an increase of three from the previous calendar quarter of July to September, though a decrease of 76 deaths from October to December 2020 

The quarterly management information from Police Scotland presents deaths that the police suspect involves illicit drugs based on reports of attending officers’ observations and initial enquiries at the scene of death, which differs from the annual NRS national statistics on drug-related deaths, as the NRS use data from death registration records supplemented with information from the Crown Office, the Procurator Fiscal Service and forensic pathologists. However, the Police Scotland suspected drug deaths correlate closely with the NRS drug-related death statistics. Since the period ending in December 2018, the rolling 12-month Police Scotland figures have ranged between 3% and 6% above the NRS drug-related death figures. 

Source: Scottish Government, 15 March 2022