New figures have revealed drug deaths in Scotland fell by a quarter last year - but the toll in Ayrshire remained second worst in the country over a five-year period.

The figures for Scotland showed that 1,051 people died due to drug misuse in 2022.

The grim statistics included 82 deaths in Ayrshire during the year - a fall of 18 year on year.

North Ayrshire remained the worst hit, with 37 drug deaths (27 men and 10 women) a drop of just two on the previous year.

East Ayrshire was not far behind, with 30 deaths (17 men and 13 women) in 2022.

South Ayrshire recorded 15 drug related deaths (eight men and seven women) during 2022.

Nationally, the figures showed a decrease of 279 deaths compared with 2021, representing the lowest number of drug misuse deaths since 2017, the National Records of Scotland revealed.

Despite the fall in fatalities, the picture in Ayrshire remains worrying.

By health board areas, only Greater Glasgow and Clyde recorded  more drug deaths per population than Ayrshire and Arran between 2018 and 2022.

In that period, Ayrshire recorded just under 30 drug deaths per 100,000 people, compared to Glasgow's 34 deaths per 100,000.

Broken down to council areas, North Ayrshire had 35 drug deaths per 100,000 of population over the period 2018 to 2022.

That made the area fourth worst in Scotland for drug deaths, behind Glasgow, with 44.4 deaths per 100,000, Dundee and Inverclyde.

East Ayrshire wasn't far behind, in sixth place, with 30 drug deaths per 100,000 of population.

South Ayrshire was the only part of the county to fall below the drug death average for Scotland, with just under 35 per 100,000 people.

Unsurprisingly, the worst areas for drug deaths were Scotland;s most deprived.

The rate was almost 16 times as high in the most deprived parts of the country.

Opiates and opioids, including heroin, morphine and methadone, were implicated in more than eight out of 10 drug related deaths in 2022.

The majority of drug misuse deaths were classified as accidental poisonings, with seven per cent classed as intentional self-poisonings.

The rate of drug poisoning deaths in Scotland was 2.7 times as high as the UK average in 2021, the most recent year that data is available for the UK as a whole.

Despite this fall, drug misuse deaths are still more common than they were two decades ago. After adjusting for age, there were 3.7 times as many drug misuse deaths in 2022 compared with 2000.

Ayr Advertiser: Drug minister Elena Whitham MSPDrug minister Elena Whitham MSP (Image: NQ Archive)

Scotland's drug and alcohol minister, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley MSP Elena Whitham, has called for durg possession to be decriminalised - a move opposed by the UK Government.

Today, Ms Whitham said: "My sympathy goes out to all those affected by the loss of a loved one through drugs.

“While I am pleased to see that hundreds of families have been spared this agony and lives have been saved, every life lost is a tragedy and the number of deaths is still too high.

“I will never underestimate the scale of the challenge we continue to face, including responding to new threats such as synthetic opioids and stimulant use.

"I can see that our work across Scotland, where we have already supported 300 grass-roots projects, is gathering pace, and I’m grateful to all those delivering vital services.

“As part of our £250 million National Mission on drugs, we’ll continue to focus on getting more people into the form of treatment and support they need, expand access to residential rehabilitation and drive the rollout of life-saving Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Standards where we are making significant progress.

“As we highlighted in our recent Drug Law Reform proposals, the UK Government could do more to work with us to help introduce harm reduction measures.”

Julie Ramsay, head of demographic statistics at National Records of Scotland, said: “While drug misuse deaths have been rising over the last two decades, with a particularly sharp increase after 2013, today’s statistics show the biggest year on year decrease since the series began.

“Those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland are almost 16 times as likely to die from drug misuse compared to people living in the least deprived areas.

“Males are twice as likely to die from drug misuse than females, however the fall in deaths in 2022 was much larger for males than for females.

“The age profile of drug misuse deaths has become older over time, the average age of people who died from drug misuse deaths has increased from 32 in 2000 to 45 in 2022."