Two people died from overdosing on illegal drugs in Shetland last year, both using heroin, according to official figures revealed today. One of the deaths was blamed on drug abuse but in the other the reason for taking the heroin was undetermined despite a post mortem and police investigation.
In the previous year, 2009, there were no drug-related deaths in Shetland but two deaths were recorded in 2006 and 2007 and one in 2008.
Orkney also suffered two drug-related deaths last year, both of undetermined intent, while in the Western Isles one person died, apparently by accidental poisoning with drugs.
The government figures for Shetland may appear on the low side given the prevalence of heroin in the islands in recent years however they do not include deaths which may have been related to drug use but were from other causes, such as accidents and fatal medical conditions.
The scale of drug-injecting going on in Shetland these days, mainly of heroin, can be guessed at from the 506 needles or syringes that are given out every week to users, a total of 26,312 items in 2009/10, up from 21,154 in 2008/09.
The heroin wave in Shetland has contributed to a drug-death rate which is now slightly higher than that suffered by many other parts of rural Scotland.
The National Records of Scotland figures published today show Shetland has a drug-death rate equal to or slightly higher than in 12 of the other 31 local authority areas in Scotland, with an average of 0.06 deaths per 1,000 population over the past five years.
Orkney comes off best in Scotland with a five-year average of 0.04 deaths per 1,000. Other areas with a slightly lower drug-death rate than Shetland are Eilean Siar (the Western Isles), Perth & Kinross, the Scottish Borders, Moray, Highland, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire and Dumfries & Galloway.
Those with the same level of drug deaths as Shetland are Aberdeenshire, Argyll & Bute and East Lothian.
The Scottish average is 0.1 drug death a year per 1,000 people, averaging a total of 496 drug deaths a year since 2006. The worst affected areas, such as Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire, average three times the number of drug deaths suffered in Shetland.
The two Shetland deaths last year were officially classed as caused by heroin/morphine because it is believed that in the overwhelming majority of cases where morphine has been identified in post-mortem toxicological tests its presence is a result of heroin use.