Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Drink and drugs cost Scots 5bn

Glasses of beer
Drink claimed three times more lives in Scotland last year than drugs

Drug and alcohol abuse is costing the Scottish economy nearly £5bn a year, according to a spending watchdog.

Audit Scotland said drink claimed 1,399 lives last year, while there were 455 drug deaths.

But three times more money was spent treating drug abuse than alcohol-related problems, the report said.

However, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the government had been addressing this "historical imbalance" by investing more in alcohol services.

The report said levels of drug and alcohol-related deaths in Scotland were among the highest in Europe, and have doubled in the last 15 years.

It also found 4.9% of Scottish adults were dependent on alcohol, while 1.8% used drugs like heroin.

The report called for more co-ordination between agencies and better assessment to ensure value for money.

The Audit Scotland review found health boards and councils spent £77m on drug services in 2007/8 compared to £26m for alcohol services.

Only 6% of direct spending was on preventative activities, and often little was done to check that services were having results.

The report put the wider cost to society of drugs at £2.6bn and £2.25bn for alcohol.

A co-ordinated effort is needed by all agencies involved to make sure people get the support and treatment they need
Robert Black
Auditor General

The figures include absenteeism from work, drug-related crime and in-patient treatment in hospital. "Drug and alcohol-related death rates are among the highest in Europe and have doubled in 15 years," the report said.

"This is at a time when indicators of drug and alcohol-related harm are reducing in other countries in Europe."

Emphasising the need for a more co-ordinated approach, Audit Scotland urged the Scottish Government to set national standards and responsibilities for public bodies.

Auditor General Robert Black said: "A co-ordinated effort is needed by all agencies involved to make sure people get the support and treatment they need and also to really find out which services work best in which circumstance."

'Horrific truth'

The Scottish Government said some of the figures used by Audit Scotland were out of date.

Ms Sturgeon said: "We've taken the decision to increase spending on drugs services by 14% over the spending review period.

"But the increase in spending on alcohol services is 230% because we recognise that historically there has been an imbalance in the spend between alcohol and drug services, and that's what we're currently correcting."

The government said this meant it would be spending more on alcohol services than drugs services over the next three years.

The Liberal Democrats' Robert Brown said: "It simply doesn't make sense that only a third as much money is spent treating alcohol abuse as treating drug abuse."

Labour's Cathy Jamieson expressed concern that the effectiveness of services was not being properly assessed.

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said: "The horrific truth has now been exposed.

"I am shocked at the sheer scale of the drugs and alcohol problem in Scotland."

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