Nearly a third of all people killed by drugs in Tayside last year had children under the age of 16, stark new figures have revealed.
NHS Tayside’s annual report into drug deaths in the region shows 22 out of the 73 fatalities were parents.
In total 31 children under the age of 16 lost a mother or father to drugs.
Dundee accounted for 51 of the deaths in 2017, while Angus had 14 and Perth and Kinross eight.
In 2016 there were 56 drug-related fatalities in Tayside and in 2015 there were 48.
Fifteen of those killed by drugs last year – a fifth of the total – had parents who suffered from substance abuse or mental health issues.
Of the 73 victims, 55 were men.
Dundee, with 0.25 deaths per 1,000 population has the highest rate of drug deaths of any local authority in Scotland.
Heroin or morphine were present in 52 deaths, nearly three-quarters of the total.
However, the report revealed a significant rise in the number of cases where users had also taken prescription painkillers.
These can include benzodiazepines such as Etizolam and Alprazolam as well as non-opioid painkillers such as pregabalin and gabapentin, which are particularly dangerous when mixed with opiates.
Dave Barrie, service manager for drug and alcohol charity Addaction, said users were playing “Russian Roulette” every time they take these pills, which are often bought over the internet.
Mr Barrie said: “People buy in bulk quite cheaply and can end up using some themselves and selling the others.
“But they don’t really know what they’re taking. In a batch of 10 pills, each one can be a different strength.
“It is really Russian Roulette every time people are using these drugs.”
There was also a rise in the number of deaths where cocaine was a factor. The drug was present in the system of eight fatalities in 2017, up from just one in 2016.
Tracey McLeod of the Havilah Project in Arbroath which provides a drop-in facility for people with addiction problems, said: “These figures really should make people sit up and take notice.
“Drug use in the community is a growing problem and we know that some people are buying drugs over the internet, which are then simply posted into the country.
“Only today we arranged for two people to enter rehab, but the fact is that for every one person we see, there are many more in the community who are taking drugs and need help, but we don’t see them.
“In the face of these very bleak statistics, there is hope for people with drug problems,” she added.
“There is a lot of good work being done by a number of organisations, but it will take a huge amount of work to stem this problem.”
Chairwoman of the Tayside Drug Death Review Group and consultant in public health medicine Dr Emma Fletcher said: “Substance misuse is a major public health issue and remains a priority for NHS Tayside and the three alcohol and drug partnerships in the Tayside area.
“The number of drug deaths is increasing nationally and globally and therefore altering this trend locally will be extremely challenging.
“However, organisations in Tayside have strengths and expertise to further develop plans in light of these recommendations to reduce the risk of people dying as a result of drug use in future.”
Dr Fletcher said the rise in people dying after taking a number of substances undermined the effectiveness of the anti-overdose drug Naloxone.
She said: “People are advised not to take a mix of substances and make sure that someone else is around to call for help if it is required.
“People should not be dying as a result of drug use and in Tayside we are committed to seeing these current trends changed.”
Anyone seeking help with drug addiction can contact:
Dundee: Integrated Substance Misuse Service, 01382 632542
Angus: Angus Integrated Drug & Alcohol Recovery Service, 01241 822502
Perth and Kinross: Drugs and Alcohol Team, Highland House, 01738 474455
They can also contact Addaction in Dundee on 01382 206888.
The charity provides Naloxone kits to drug users and their families.