Researchers said public health campaigns would cut drug deaths
Scotland's higher death rate compared with England and Wales is partly down to greater drug use, a new investigation has suggested.
A Glasgow University study, published in the British Medical Journal, said a third of the additional deaths north of the Border resulted from drug abuse.
Higher death rates have traditionally been blamed on deprivation.
Scotland's death rate is 15% higher than in England and Wales and the gap has widened over the past 30 years.
In the face of a general rise in living standards, the figures puzzled researchers.
The British Medical Journal has now argued as many as a third of the excess deaths have resulted from drug abuse.
Glasgow University researchers, who studied more than 1,000 problem users starting treatment, said the problem in Scotland was proportionately twice as bad as that in England and Wales - but many drug-related deaths were not recorded as such.
They included deaths associated with infections, assaults and suicides which could be linked to a drug-taking lifestyle, and which could account for much of the excess Scottish mortality rate.
The researchers concluded that successful public health campaigns to cut the number of drug users would have a strong impact on deaths throughout the UK.
Scottish ministers announced its new drug strategy earlier this year, with a focus on recovery and helping people live drug-free lives.
A total of £94m will be spent over the next three years on tackling the problem.