5. Council areas (trends, causes, drugs reported and death rates by age-group) and areas with smaller populations

5.1 Tables C1 to C5 provide figures for individual Council areas, and Figure 3 shows their death rate per 1,000 problem drug users. Again, because of the relatively small numbers involved, particularly for some areas, great care should be taken when using these figures. Even the numbers for the most populous areas may be subject to large percentage year-to-year fluctuations (e.g. Glasgow's figures from 2004 to 2008 were as follows: 106, 75, 113, 90, 121; Edinburgh's from 2003 to 2009 were: 26, 17, 41, 30, 43, 66, 45).

Again, the points mentioned in sections 2 and 3.3 may have a proportionately greater effect on the numbers for some of the areas with smaller populations. Again, the figures given in Table C3 are on the standard basis (drugs implicated in, or which potentially contributed to, the cause of death), and so are not comparable to figures (in the editions for 2008 and earlier years) on the basis of 'all drugs which were [reported as having been] found to be present in the body'. As mentioned earlier, the web site has versions of Table C3 which give (i) figures for 2008 on the standard basis and (ii) figures for 2009 onwards on the 'all drugs which were found to be present in the body' basis.

5.2 As the numbers of drug-related death for areas with smaller populations will be lower, and may be subject to proportionately larger year-to-year fluctuations, it is unlikely that much useful information could be obtained from looking at the figures for small areas for a single year, or for a few years taken together. There could also be concerns about the sensitivity of data relating to small areas, as it might be possible, in some circumstances, to infer something about identifiable individuals from such data. Therefore, one should only look at such figures for several years taken together. Even then, the smaller the areas are, the more (in percentage terms) their figures may be influenced by how National Records of Scotland (NRS) allocates deaths to areas, based upon the details that are collected by the registration process. Information about the basis of NRS's statistics about deaths, and examples of the fluctuations in and possible unreliability of figures for small areas, are available from the Vital Events – General Background Information and the Deaths – Background Information pages within the vital events section of their website:

5.3 An example of the scale of the numbers for small areas is given by an analysis for the National Forum on Drug-related Deaths, which used data for postal districts for the eight years from 2000 to 2007 (inclusive). This was done in response to a request, at a Forum meeting in September 2008, to 'identify any geographical concentrations of drug-related deaths'. Postal districts are not normally used for statistical analysis, but in this case they provided a convenient way to describe the extent to which the numbers of drug-related deaths were concentrated in certain parts of Scotland, by using a geography that would be more meaningful to Forum members than, say, the Datazones or Intermediate Zones that are used in Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics. The database had records for 2,893 drug-related deaths (on the basis of the standard definition) in Scotland in the specified eight years (paragraph A4 of Annex A explains why there is a slight difference from the total of the published figures for those years). Of the postal districts, 'G21' had the largest number (67 - an average of 8.4 per year). Four other postal districts had totals of 50 or more drug-related deaths for that period: 'G33' (54); 'G20' (53); 'G32' (51); and 'AB24' (50). Figures were not provided for every individual postal district, because of the numbers involved. There were 25 postal districts which each had 29 or more drug-related deaths over the eight years: each of them accounted for more than 1% of the total for Scotland for that period. Taken together, these 25 postal districts accounted for about a third of all drug-related deaths in Scotland between 2000 and 2007. The remaining two-thirds of drug-related deaths in that period were deaths of residents of postal districts which had, at most, 28 such deaths over the eight years - i.e. areas which had, on average, at most 3½ drug-related deaths per year (many averaged fewer than one drug-related death per year). It follows that, while some postal districts have markedly more drug-related deaths than others, the problem is clearly a very widespread one, with most deaths being of people who had been living in areas which had relatively few drug-related deaths.