Rise in women dying from drugs in Scotland as male deaths fall

Women face additional barriers when it comes to drug misuse that the Scottish Government must address, according to the chief executive of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs.

Thursday, 28th July 2022, 1:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th July 2022, 2:35 pm

In 2021, there were 397 drug misuse deaths of females, an increase of 31 from 2020, according to the latest figures published by National Records of Scotland on Wednesday.

There were 933 drug misuse deaths of males, a decrease of 40 from 2020 and a total of 1,330 people lost their lives to drug misuse in Scotland in 2021.

The figures show males were 2.4 times as likely to have a drug misuse death as females in 2021 (35.8 deaths per 100,000 population compared to 14.7).

Women face additional barriers when it comes to drug misuse, according to Justina Murray, the chief executive of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs.

However, over time this gap has decreased – in the early 2000s males were more than 4 times as likely to die from drug misuse as females.

A “gendered approach” which is mindful of the different reasons why women become addicted to drugs is needed, according to Justina Murray, chief executive of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs – a charity that supports anyone concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use in Scotland.

Ms Murray said: “I think for women there’s so many barriers in the way where women have children and they are very scared to come forward for support because of fear that their children will be taken away from them or even having any statutory involvement in their life.

"The way that services are offered is not always female-friendly. There’s a lack of women specific services and there may be people they don’t want to mix with or engage with that are going through mainstream services, for example, if they’ve been in violent relationships in the past.

“We know historically there has been this increase amongst women in drug deaths. This is not a brand new trend and so when we see the headline figures that 70 per cent of deaths are men, it is helpful the statistics have also said the number of women are also increasing.

“I think we need to take a much more gendered approach to looking at the issue.

“I know there has been good work underway around women and drug harm and drug deaths but this is maybe a call for a stronger focus on that.”

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The Scottish Government is looking to further support for women affected by drug misuse as the drug minister said she is 'concerned' about the increase in deaths amongst women.

Angela Constance said: “I am concerned about the rise in deaths among women and will look to expand on current steps we are taking including the provision of two Mother and Child Residential Recovery Houses which will enable women to receive support while staying with their children.”

A new National Specialist Residential Family Service set to be run by the charity and housing association Phoenix Futures in North Ayrshire is currently underway.

There is also going to be two new mother and baby developments led by children’s charity Aberlour in Dundee and central Scotland with the first opening in Autumn this year.

Ms Murray said it was “very positive” to see there is going to be developments of family-based residential options, however, more pathways need to be made available for women with different needs.

The chief executive of SFAD said: "It’s very positive to see that but that will be supporting small numbers of families and we really need to make sure we know what are the care pathways for women whether or not they’ve got children and are we being mindful enough of the different circumstances that might lead women into drug use in the first place.

"I think for women in particular there’s just these additional barriers getting in the way where there’s just not enough recognition of their experience.

“Often they’ve gone into drug use through different pathways and they maybe need different pathways to get back out.

Ms Murray said everyone impacted by drug misuse need “urgent improvements to treatment, care and support services”.

The chief executive said: “We’ve now got a lot of reports that all say the same things on what we need to see such as no postcode lottery, no wrong door, people being treated with respect and kindness but people on the ground are still telling us that’s just not happening.

“We’ve just got this big gap between all the good things we are writing down on paper and what's actually happening on the ground. There’s not really any accountability in the system and it just seems that all you’ve got are these quite slow and complicated complaints processes.

"We have seen more funding being pushed out to local areas but almost all of that has gone to statutory treatment services who are already having issues recruiting and rettaining staff and who are already not always the services people want to go to for support. We need to look at our third sector, community and grassroot organisations as well as make sure there’s a parity of investment across all of Scotland.”