The second highest annual death total on record was recorded in 2021, with 1,330 Scots dying of drug misuse. This signals a one per cent decrease on the 2020 figures, when 1,339 people died. While the first decrease in seven years is a positive step forward, there is much more to be done by the Scottish government to end this emergency.

The drug death rate is arguably the biggest challenge Scotland faces. Collectively, Great Britain has one of the worst rates in Europe. But if Scotland is measured separately, the problem is significantly worse.


Source: BBC via EMCDDA and National Records of Scotland

The reasons why the drug death rate in Scotland is significantly higher than anywhere else in Europe are complex and contested. However, the evidence suggests that there is a clear geographical link between those parts of Scotland that need more investment and support across their communities and higher drug-related deaths.

The following is the drug death rate across Scotland’s local authorities:


*Orkney Islands not included. Source: National Records of Scotland

The Scottish government’s Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) is a tool used to identify which areas of Scotland are in the most need of targeted policies and funding to help improve socio-economic outcomes. It measures each postcode in Scotland according to income, employment, education, health, access to services, crime and housing. It isn’t a perfect measure but is helpful for targeting support towards those most in need. It is notable that of the top 30 communities within the SIMD rankings, many are within the top five local authorities for drug deaths:


*SIMD Zones are sometimes split into two if they are made up of large areas, hence the (1) and (2) labels. Source: Scottish government

Further, if you take other indicators such as house prices and unemployment, a clear pattern emerges.


Source: Scottish government

It is also important to note that the larger rural areas (such as the Scottish Borders and Highland) can mask localised rural poverty and deprivation which is easier to identify within smaller geographical areas of cities and towns.

The news follows the recently published Changing lives: final report by the Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce, an expert group commissioned by the Scottish government to independently make policy recommendations to reduce drug and alcohol-related deaths in Scotland. We agree with the Taskforce’s chair, David Strang CBE QPM, that policy has to change. The status quo of criminalisation and stigmatisation of drug use over the past 50 years has not worked – it’s time to take a compassionate approach towards sufferers of drug addiction, the reality of so many Scots’ lives every day.

The Changing Lives report has made several recommendations for the Scottish government to implement. These include:

  • families being at the heart of the recovery process;
  • implementing a​“no wrong door” approach, meaning that individuals are never turned away, passed from service to service or have treatment based on conditions met;
  • sufficient funding to meet a public health emergency;
  • integrate a person-centred, trauma-informed public health approach to drug use in the justice system; and
  • engaging with the UK government to review laws around drug use.

In June, in partnership with Serve Scotland, we jointly published Stories of Hope: addiction recovery (our follow-up to our 2020 report Stories of Hope from the Covid-19 pandemic), which told the stories of the incredible work that is being done right across Scotland by churches and Christian charities, supporting those in their communities who struggle with addiction to recover and thrive. We were encouraged that groups represented within the report were able to engage with MSPs and hear from Angela Constance MSP, minister for drugs policy, in the Scottish Parliament. We are looking forward to engaging with the Scottish government as to how Christian communities across Scotland can contribute to fulfilling the taskforce’s 20 recommendations and 139 action points.

The drug deaths crisis in Scotland is a public health emergency, and it is for all of us, as Christians, to step up and play our part, because we are called to deeply love our neighbour.

We pray and long for addictions to be conquered and bodies to be restored, communities rebuilt and lives to be changed. Stories of Hope: addiction recovery found that over 2,300 people have been supported to recover from their addiction and have their lives transformed through services offered by Christian charities and churches across Scotland over the past decade. We long for so much more of this. Let’s continue, in the strength that God gives us by His grace, to make ourselves available and to give ourselves up so that many more lives are saved.

If you read this as someone who struggles with addiction, know deeply how much you are loved by God. There is no shame and no stigma in bravely coming forward to seek help. Tell your family and friends. Talk to those in your church or in your community. They love you, and they want to help you.

When Jesus was on earth, He spent time with and loved those who believed they were worthless because of how society around them treated them. It might have been because of mistakes they made, because they were part of a marginalised group, or because of health problems they had. This is why Christians today want to help you with your drug addictions and won’t judge you when you seek help.

For those of us who are Christians, is there more we can do to help address this national emergency? If you’d like us to put you in touch with local groups or charities, don’t hesitate to contact us.

The last section of Galatians explains how Christians should live their new life having been transformed and set free by the love of Jesus – by reflecting the very same love through our life:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:​‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13 – 14NIV)

Loving our neighbour as ourselves means giving up our time, energy, compassion and resources to others just as much as we do for ourselves – because we are free in Jesus. How this is done in practice will look different for every Christian. As God’s people, let’s continue to play our part as well as innovating new ways or starting new initiatives, to help Scotland overcome this national emergency.