‘Legal Highs’ blamed as drug deaths at 5-year high

Drug deaths are now being attributed to legal highs, as well as the more traditional culprits such as heroin. Picture: Toby Williams
Drug deaths are now being attributed to legal highs, as well as the more traditional culprits such as heroin. Picture: Toby Williams
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DRUG deaths in the Capital have hit a five-year high amid increasing use of so-called “legal highs”, according to new figures.

The data, contained in a report from the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (EADP), shows there were 64 drug-related deaths in 2013 – up from 57 the previous year and 45 in 2009.

New psychoactive substances (NPS) – known as legal highs – have emerged as a significant factor behind the jump.

Fatalities across the Capital continue to trail those in Glasgow, where 109 were reported in 2012.

But charity leaders said Edinburgh’s increase was “unfortunate”, particularly as statistics showed the death rate in the rest of Scotland had been falling.

Emma Crawshaw, service delivery manager at city-based drugs charity Crew, said: “People using multiple drugs taken together present an enormous risk and I know EADP is looking into all sorts of ways to reach out to people to make sure they have the right sort of information and support, especially if they have a drug issue.

“We believe we can intervene early and reduce harm. That investment is really important – there must be support there for people who use substances so they can support recovery and reduce harm to themselves and people around them.”

A general profile of those who died has revealed victims were white, Scottish men in their late 30s, single and unemployed, and drinking at the same time as consuming drugs.

Police chiefs described the rise in Edinburgh-based incidents as “concerning”.

Detective Inspector Lyle Shaw said: “Police Scotland continues to work with our partners in the NHS and the city council to tackle drug issues, which is one of our priorities in the Local Policing Plans.

“Last week, Police Scotland also launched a nationwide campaign to help raise awareness of the dangers of taking new psychoactive substances. Police Scotland is committed to keeping people safe and to stopping the sale of any substances, which may cause harm to our communities.

“We will vigorously pursue those who blight our communities with drugs and advise people that consuming controlled substances, as well as NPS, can have a serious impact on your health and quality of life.”

EADP chiefs also voiced concern and said they were doing everything they could to reverse the trend.

Chairman Peter Gabbitas said: “Although the figures are still below the 2008 level, more needs to be done and we have developed a comprehensive action plan to tackle the issue.

“The plan builds on the close work we already carry out with partner agencies to improve access to specialist treatment, education and support to help people get out of the cycle of drug misuse.”

He added: “We also have a multi-agency drug death monitoring group, which examines all drug-related deaths in Edinburgh to ensure that we learn from them.”