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 2020/21. The topics covered are: the number of hospital stays, the number and characteristics of patients, substances used and geographical variations. These data are published in a dashboard and full report.

Main points

In 2020/21:

  • There were 14,310 drug-related hospital stays. The drug-related hospital stay rate was 270 stays per 100,000 population, a decrease from 284 stays per 100,000 in 2019/20.
  • The highest stay rate (127 per 100,000 population) was associated with opioids (drugs similar to heroin). The opioid-related stay rate decreased from 140 per 100,000 population in 2019/20.
  • The sedative/hypnotic-related hospital stay rate was 54 stays per 100,000 population. This was an increase from 50 stays per 100,000 population in 2019/20, and the highest recorded across the time series.
Image caption Drug-related stay rates by hospital type (Scotland; 1996/97 to 2020/21)
  • The highest patient rate (474 per 100,000 population) was observed among people aged 35-44 years. Following a steady increase over the last 24 years, patient rates in this age group decreased from 517 per 100,000 population in 2019/20.
  • 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 42 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 116 stays per 100,000 population, similar to 2019/20 (118). This rate has gradually increased since 2012/13 (64).

Around the time of the first national COVID-19 lockdown on 23 March 2020, there was a marked decrease in the number of drug-related hospital stays. The number of stays observed in April 2020 (819) was 29% lower than the 2018 and 2019 average number of stays in April (1,155). This is likely to have been due to measures put in place to respond to COVID-19.


Hospital activity data are based on information routinely drawn from hospital administrative systems across NHSScotland. 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.

For further background information and glossary of terms please refer to the dashboard.


Lynne Jarvis
Principal Information Analyst
0131 275 6424

Mike Smith
Information Analyst
0131 275 7598

Drugs team

Further information

The next release of this publication will be November 2022.

Open data from this publication are available from the Scottish Health and Social Care Open Data platform.

Last updated: 21 March 2024
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