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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Deaths from drug use drop sharply
Injecting heroin
The SDEA saw drug deaths fall in 2003
The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland has dropped sharply, figures have shown.

Statistics compiled by Scotland's eight police forces were down from 311 fatalities in 2002, to 226 in 2003.

The head of the Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency (SDEA), Graeme Pearson, welcomed the drop of 27%.

Mr Pearson attributed the fall to improved training of accident and emergency staff, health education aimed at users and tougher enforcement.

He said: "We think that a 27% fall in the number of people affected by deaths due to the misuse of drugs is a good news story, there's no doubt about that, but we can't be complacent.

Long-term hopes

"The work that has been done by the health agencies in intervening early, education in getting out the news that's necessary for addicts to protect themselves and hopefully the work of the agencies, have all contributed to ensure a positive outcome in the last year."

He also welcomed Glasgow City Council's announcement that it had taken an additional 500 addicts onto its methadone programme.

Iona Colvin, the authority's joint general manager of addiction services, said: "Of those people receiving methadone on prescription an extra 20% now receive additional social care support compared to last year.

"This is very important as it makes it much easier to monitor progress and to encourage the participants to stay off drugs in the longer term."

These people don't just deal drugs, they deal death
Cathy Jamieson
Justice minister
The SDEA figures for deaths reported to the police came ahead of drug death statistics for 2003 from the General Register Office for Scotland, which will be published on Thursday.

These have risen from 291 in 1999, to 382 in 2002.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson, speaking as she met staff at the SDEA headquarters in Paisley, said: "We need to cut the supply and circulation of drugs in our community and to target those who import drugs into this country and into communities across Scotland.

"These people don't just deal drugs, they deal death. They are responsible for turning ordinary, hard-working people into mourners for lost sons and daughters, and for children losing their parents to drugs."

Since its launch four years ago, operations involving the SDEA have disrupted more than 300 criminal networks and the agency has pledged to seize 21m in criminal assets this year.

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