About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) presents information on hospital activity relating to illicit drug use in Scotland during the period 1996/97 to 2021/22. The topics covered include: 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.

View a PDF of the publication summary.

Main points

In 2021/22:

  • There were 12,474 drug-related hospital stays. The European Age-sex Standardised Rate (EASR) of drug-related hospital stays was 235 stays per 100,000 population. This rate decreased for the second consecutive year, from a peak of 283 per 100,000 population in 2019/20.
  • The highest substance-specific stay rate (106 per 100,000 population) was for opioids (drugs similar to heroin). This rate decreased for the second consecutive year, from a peak of 141 per 100,000 population in 2019/20.
Image caption Drug-related stay rates by hospital type (Scotland; 1996/97 to 2020/21)
  • The highest patient rate (412 per 100,000 population) was observed among people aged 35-44 years. This rate decreased for the second consecutive year, from a peak of 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.
  • Between May 2021 and March 2022, the number of stays each month was approximately one quarter lower than the average number of stays in the same months of 2018 and 2019. This period of lower-than-expected stays partly coincided with the COVID-19 restrictions in place from December 2021 to January 2022, however the reasons for the sustained decreases are not yet fully understood.
  • The rate of stays for drug poisoning/overdose decreased to 32 stays per 100,000 population, from a peak of 42 stays in 2020/21. This was the first decrease in overdose stay rates since 2012/13 (22 stays per 100,000 population).
  • Drug-related hospital stay rates decreased sharply since 2019/20 among people aged under 45 years but have remained fairly stable in patients aged 45 years and older. People aged 45 years and over were more likely to have been admitted to hospital multiple times for drug-related causes and stayed in hospital for longer than people aged under 45.


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.


Nicole Jarvie
Principal Information Analyst
0141 300 1326

Megan McMinn
Senior Information Analyst

Further information

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

Last updated: 20 November 2023
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