About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland presents information on hospital activity relating to illicit drug use in Scotland in the period from 1996/97 to 2019/20. The topics covered are: the number of hospital stays, the number and characteristics of patients, substances used and geographical variations. This includes information about inequalities and some of the health impacts of illicit drug use. These data are published in an electronic dashboard and full report.​

Main points

In 2019/20:

  • There were 14,976 drug-related hospital stays. Of these, 86% (12,888) were in general acute hospitals, and 14% (2,091) were in psychiatric hospitals.
  • The drug-related hospital stay rate was 282 stays per 100,000 population. This rate has increased more than threefold since 1997/98 (87 per 100,000 population) with a consistent upward trend observed from 2012/13 onwards.
  • 49% of drug-related hospital stays were due to opioids (drugs similar to heroin). The rate of opioid-related stays increased from 35 stays per 100,000 population in 1997/98 to 140 stays per 100,000 population in 2019/20.
Image caption Drug-related stay rates by hospital type (Scotland; 1996/97 to 2019/20)
The chart shows the change in time between 1996/97 and 2019/20 in the rate of hospital stays in all hospitals, as well as the change in general acute hospitals and psychiatric hospitals. There is an increase in all hospitals and in general acute hospitals over time, with a marked increase from 2012/13. The current stay rate across all hospitals in 2019/20 is 282 stays per 100,000 population.
  • The majority of patients (77%) were aged between 25 and 54 years. Over the last 23 years, patient rates increased steadily among the 35-44 year (from 70 to 514 patients per 100,000 population) and 45-54 year age groups (from 18 to 314 patients per 100,000 population).
  • Approximately half of the patients with a drug-related hospital stay lived in the most deprived areas in Scotland.
  • The illicit drug overdose rate was 41 stays per 100,000 population. This rate has increased consistently since 2012/13 (22 stays per 100,000 population).
  • The drug-related stay rate for under 25 year olds was 117 stays per 100,000 population. This rate has gradually increased since 2012/13 (64 per 100,000 population).
  • The majority of psychiatric hospital stays were attributed to 'multiple/other' (53%) and opioids (25%). However, there has been a notable increase in the percentage of stays attributed to cannabinoids in recent years, increasing from 9% in 2014/15 to 18% in 2019/20.


Hospital activity data are based on information routinely drawn from hospital administrative systems across the NHS in Scotland. The data used in these statistics relate to all inpatient and day cases (excluding maternity, neonatal and geriatric long stay) discharged from general acute and psychiatric hospitals (including paediatric facilities). Attendances at Accident and Emergency that do not result in a hospital admission are not included. Each stay begins with a referral or admission and is ended by a discharge. Individual patients may have more than one stay in hospital, therefore the number of people discharged within a year will be less than the total number of stays.

Rates referred to in this publication are European Age-sex Standardised Rates (EASR) per 100,000 population.

Further information is available in background information and glossary of terms.


Lynne Jarvis
Principal Information Analyst
0131 275 6424

Mike Smith
Information Analyst
0131 275 7598

Drugs team

Further information

For more information on illicit drug use see the substance use section of our website.

The next release of this publication will be in winter 2021/22.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
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