About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland presents information on hospital activity relating to illicit drug use in Scotland in the period from 1996/97 to 2018/19. The topics covered are: the number of hospital stays, the number and characteristics of patients, substances used and geographical variations. This includes information about inequalities and some of the health impacts of illicit drug use.

Main points

  • Between 1996/97 and 2018/19, there was a greater than threefold increase in the rate of drug-related hospital stays in Scotland from 73 to 260 stays per 100,000 population.
  • The rate of drug-related general acute hospital stays increased from 51 to 219 stays per 100,000 population between 1996/97 and 2018/19, with a sharper increase observed in recent years. After a period of relative stability, the rate of drug-related psychiatric hospital stays in Scotland increased from 29 to 41 stays per 100,000 population between 2014/15 and 2018/19.
  • In 2018/19, there were 133 stays per 100,000 population associated with opioids in Scottish hospitals (general acute or psychiatric). The next most common drug types recorded in hospital stays were multiple/other drugs (64 stays per 100,000 population), sedatives/hypnotics (39), cannabinoids (33) and cocaine (31). Hospital stay rates for each of these drug types have increased since 2013/14.
  • Since 2013/14, the most common age group among people with a drug-related hospital stay (general acute or psychiatric) has been 35-44 years. Patient rates for this group increased ninefold from 56 to 501 patients per 100,000 population between 1996/97 and 2018/19.
  • Following a lengthy period of annual decreases, patient rates for 15-24 year olds increased from 126 patients per 100,000 population in 2012/13 to 206 patients per 100,000 population in 2018/19.
  • In 2018/19, approximately half of the patients with a drug-related general acute or psychiatric hospital stay lived in the 20% of most deprived areas in Scotland.


Hospital activity data are based on information routinely drawn from hospital administrative systems across the NHS in Scotland. The data used in these statistics relate to all inpatient and day cases (excluding maternity, neonatal and geriatric long stay) discharged from general acute and psychiatric hospitals (including paediatric facilities). Attendances at Accident and Emergency that do not result in a hospital admission are not included. Individual patients may have more than one stay in hospital, therefore the number of people discharged within a year will be less than the total number of stays.

Rates referred to in this publication are European Age-sex Standardised Rates (EASR) per 100,000 population.

The ‘Sedatives/hypnotics’ group of drugs includes ‘prescribable’ benzodiazepines (drugs such as diazepam), ‘street’ benzodiazepines (for example, etizolam and alprazolam) and z-hypnotics (for example, zopiclone). In the event of an overdose, or if combined with another sedative, many of these drugs can cause unconsciousness and even death.

‘Multiple/other’ drugs refers to the use of multiple substances or to drugs not included in the main categories (for example, hallucinogens, volatile solvents, or other psychoactive substances).


Jaroslaw Lang
Senior Information Analyst/Statistician
0141 282 2202

Mike Smith
Information Analyst
0131 275 7598

Drugs team

Further information

View the publication summary (PDF)

The data from this publication are available to view and download from the electronic dashboard, along with background, methods, glossary and metadata information.

For more information on illicit drug use see the substance use section of the Data and Intelligence website (external website).

The Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) provides information on various aspects of illicit drug use in Scotland: ScotPHO drug misuse section (external website).

The next release of this publication will be in summer 2021.

Last updated: 07 October 2022
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