Why drug-related deaths in Scotland are NOT two and a half times higher than rest of UK


From Reporting Scotland last night:

‘Drug-related deaths in Scotland are two and a half times higher than the rest of the UK.’

That would be a huge difference and straight off the bat as they say, it’s just not very plausible just as ‘Crime in England is two and a half times higher than in Scotland‘ or ‘Road deaths in Wales are two and a half times higher than in Northern Ireland’ would cause you to stop and think. Any undergraduate would know that there are almost certainly serious differences in the way the data has been collected and presented then investigate that.

The ONS statistics used by Reporting Scotland, 934 deaths or 172 per million do, at first sight, seem to suggest the rate is two and a half times higher but do not take into account regional variations within England (below) and come from a source which compares these with English data which are not gathered in the same way. See this telling example on page 47:

‘It follows that some deaths could (in theory) be counted differently in, say, Scotland and England. For example, a death from intentional self-poisoning by an uncontrolled substance would be counted in Scotland (but not in England) if a controlled substance was present in the body but was not believed to have contributed to the death (because the presence of the controlled substance would not be recorded in the data for England).’

Perhaps contributing to this problem deaths are more likely to be recorded as suicide in Scotland:

Unlike Scotland, in England and Wales, whether a death due to injury is classified as intentional or accidental depends on information provided by coroners. Narrative verdicts from coroners often do not provide information on whether the injuries were due to intentional self-harm, were accidental or were of undetermined intent. In these circumstances, coding rules mean that classification of the death defaults to ‘accidental’, and therefore suicides may be underestimated in England and Wales (and therefore also the UK).’ 


Given England’s much greater population and diversity, a direct comparison with Scotland is meaningless. See these deaths per million regional figures:



Should the English data be collected in the same way as the Scottish data would the level still be much higher or higher at all than in, eg, Northern England or Wales?

Also important is a comparison of these levels of death with other causes. Remember for Scotland it’s 172 in a million people but here were 228 alcohol-related deaths per million in 2017.


There were 1 851 smoking-related deaths in 2015.


I’d offer to help but most undergraduates could do this.


5 thoughts on “Why drug-related deaths in Scotland are NOT two and a half times higher than rest of UK

  1. diabloandco July 17, 2019 / 6:27 am

    Thanks for that particularly as my first reaction to the “Scotland is the drug deaths capitol of the Universe’ was’ bollocks’.

    The daily record headlines equally so and Sarah Smith’s comments too.

    I am getting more than a little tired of the constant ‘ anything will do as long as it slags off Scotland ‘ media. I wonder what reward they will reap in the long run or what has been promised them.

    I also wonder why they like living in this ‘dreadful’ wee country of ours since it is so much below the standards of our neighbours – mind you I also wonder why the neighbours sell up down south and trundle their way up here to live in retirement , early or otherwise.

    Having just returned from a holiday in the delightful west of Scotland , where all was peace , serenity good food ,wondrous wildlife and no wifi connection
    perhaps we should emphasise and over exaggerate the ‘bad ‘ elements to discourage an influx of those who think to takeover.

    Come to Scotland – Land of the Scrounger and Addict , where they will tan your house and mug you for your pension’
    What a great advert eh?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brian McGowan July 17, 2019 / 11:14 am

    Our attitude should not be “the media’s at it again”. Our attitude should be “and what will the SNP/Scottish govt do about it”. I remember reading last year that Keith Brown was heading up a “Rebuttal Service”, to include debunking “claims that are mis-representative”.
    Where are you when we need you?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Clydebuilt July 17, 2019 / 1:52 pm

      Keith Brown can shout the truth at our media, BUT telling the truth doesn’t serve our media’s purpose. So Scotland’s excuse for a media will ignore any representations made to them. Excepting The National off course.

      This blog is Scotland’s best debunking service. So we need to get as many people reading it as possible. Tell all your contacts about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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