Image of a person wearing a tshirt that raises awareness of drug-related deaths

International Overdose Awareness Day, held every year on the 31st of August, is an opportunity to reflect on those affected by a drug-related death.

The recent announcement from the National Records of Scotland, stated that 1,051 people died of a preventable drug overdose in Scotland in 2022. Although this is 279 deaths fewer than 2021 and is the lowest total of drug-related deaths since 2017, Scotland continues to have the highest drug death rate in the UK and the rest of Europe.

The harm caused by drugs, including hospitalisations and deaths, is a significant public health issue for Scotland, particularly amongst those aged 35-55 years.

Working with our local and national partners, Public Health Scotland (PHS) is contributing towards the response through improving surveillance of the current harms.

Rapid Action Drug Alerts and Response (RADAR) is Scotland’s drugs early warning system, led by PHS, which uses innovative data collection methods to gather, assess and share information to reduce the risk of drug-related harm.

In addition to Quarterly reports, RADAR issues alerts to raise awareness among people who use drugs and the services who support them. There are currently two live alerts for Bromazolam – a street benzodiazepine - and Nitazanes – a synthetic opioid.

Alongside enhancing intelligence, PHS is also directly working with Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to improve access, choice and care for people who experience drug problems across Scotland through the implementation of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Standards.

Receiving appropriate support for a drug problem can help reduce the risk of overdose, therefore it is important that people have access to effective and good quality treatment options.

Progress is being made, with the recent National Benchmarking report for 2022/23, published by PHS, showing a substantial progress in the implementation of the Standards within the last 12 months.

Dr Tara Shivaji, Consultant at Public Health Scotland, said:

“International Overdose Awareness Day is an opportunity to commemorate and remember, without stigma, those who have died from drugs and to acknowledge the grief of their families and friends who must cope without their loved ones.

“The latest drug-related deaths announcement does show some progress however, drug harms continue to be one of Scotland’s most significant public health challenges.

“Through the activity of RADAR and the MAT Standards Implementation Team, PHS is working to ensure Scotland and its services can respond better to the issues faced by people with a drug problem.”

Find out more about International Overdose Awareness Day

Find out more about RADAR

Find out more about the MAT Standards

Last updated: 31 August 2023