National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Small decrease in drug death figures

Small decrease in drug death figures

Thursday, 28 Jul 2022
demography news release image

1,330 people lost their lives to drug misuse in Scotland in 2021, according to latest figures published by National Records of Scotland.

The number is 1% lower than 2020 which makes it the first year since 2013 in which drug misuse deaths have not increased. However, it is still the second highest annual total on record.

Of those who died from the misuse of drugs, 65% were aged between 35 and 54 years old and more than two thirds (70%) were men.

Dundee City had the highest age-standardised drug misuse death rate of all local authority areas (45.2 per 100,000 population for the 5-year period 2017-2021), followed by Glasgow City (44.4) and Inverclyde (35.7).

Julie Ramsay, Vital Events Statistician at NRS, 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 93% of all drug misuse deaths, more than one drug was found to be present in the body, and the type of drugs that are implicated in deaths has been changing. In 2015 there were 191 deaths involving benzodiazepines, last year there were 918, near five times as many. This increase has mostly been driven by street benzodiazepines rather than those which are prescribed. Of all drug misuse deaths in 2021, 84% involved opiates or opioids (such as heroin, morphine and methadone). 69% involved benzodiazepines (such as diazepam and etizolam).

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 that of any European country.


National Records of Scotland (NRS) is a non-ministerial department of the devolved Scottish Administration. It is responsible for producing statistics on Scotland’s population.

The publication Drug-related Deaths in Scotland in 2021 is available on our website.

Figure 5a and 6a in the publication show the age standardised rates of death by drug misuse for Scotland’s local authorities and health boards. The numbers of deaths in each area are in table HB1 and table C1.

Media enquiries should be directed to:
Susie Rose
NRS communications
Tel: 07500 463452
Email: [email protected]

Further information about the statistics is available from:
NRS Customer Services
Email: [email protected]