Sick hospital patients squeezed out by drug users

There has been a 30 per cent rise in drug-using patients discharged from hospitals, (picture posed by model). Picture: Ian Georgeson
There has been a 30 per cent rise in drug-using patients discharged from hospitals, (picture posed by model). Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A RISING number of drug users are clogging up Lothian hospitals as a result of substance abuse, figures reveal.

Three patients every day are being discharged from hospitals as a direct result of drugs, with the number rising by 30 per cent in just three years.

And as the statistics relate to admissions due to the direct physiological effects of drugs, rather than injuries caused as an indirect result of substance abuse, there are fears that they represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the strain narcotics are placing on hospitals.

Gavin Brown, Conservative MSP for the Lothians, said: “The fact that these figures are so high and on the increase should be of great concern to all of us.

“The Scottish Government claims to have had an approach over the last few years based on recovery, however, these figures and others suggest the approach is not being effectively implemented on the ground. This should be investigated as a matter of urgency and we need to spell out clearly how we intend to tackle the problem.”

Opioids, including heroin and methadone, were by far the most common cause of acute hospital visits, accounting for 738 discharges in the region over the year-long period. Cannabinoids, sedatives and cocaine also led to stints in hospital. The figures do not include alcohol.

Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, branded the users taken to hospital “selfish”. She added: “If this is what they want to do with their lives that’s their choice, but other patients who are sick don’t get to choose. They are taking up beds that are needed elsewhere.”

The vast majority of patients were rushed to Lothians emergency departments, increasing strain on struggling facilities.

Katy MacLeod, an outreach coordinator with city-based drugs charity Crew 2000, said the increase may be down to better recording in hospitals or greater awareness among those seeking treatment.

Ms MacLeod added that while any rise in figures was unwelcome, the charity’s main concern was over multiple drug use, including alcohol.

She said: “We are often seeing in our work that poly drug using is the norm and people often fail to count alcohol as a drug within this. Of our crisis intervention statistics, 75 per cent per cent involve alcohol.”

Jim Sherval, specialist in public health for NHS Lothian, admitted that substance abuse was continuing to affect “many people” across the Lothians.

He added: “In the last five years we have invested in additional services to support drug users. We have improved access to treatment through dedicated drop-in clinics where a range of services are available in one location and work closely with our local authority partners through the Alcohol and Drug Partnerships.”