Drug related deaths (DRDs) have been increasing in Scotland over at least the past decade. This study aimed to describe the characteristics ( gender, age, ICD10 cause of death), toxicology and circumstances of all Scotland's DRDs in 2003 to help inform a national overdose prevention strategy. Coronial files for 300/317 (95%) DRDs registered with the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) in 2003 were examined retrospectively ( in 2004). Characteristics: 241/300 (80%) were male. Mean age at death was 32.8 years ( SE 0.63, range 16-82). Route of administration was injecting for 137/268 (51%) who were classifiable. Classified injectors were more likely to be male (91%: 124/137) and younger (mean age of 32 years) than those whose death was by a non-injecting route (male: 87/131 (66%) and mean age of 35 years). Twenty-five to forty-four year olds made up 108/137 DRDs by injecting (79%), but only 62/131 (47%) by non-injecting routes. Cases of intentional self-poisoning (injectors 1; non-injecting 34) and undetermined intent ( injectors 14; non-injecting 26) were infrequent among injectors. Of those who died by the injecting route, 108/137 were known intravenous drug users, but so too were 29/131 DRDs by non-injecting routes. Toxicology: overall 38/300 cases of DRD (13%) were negative for opioid drugs - only 2/137 DRDs by injecting (1%) were negative for opioids compared with 33/131 (25%) by non-injecting route. Methadone was present for 15/137 DRDs by injecting route (11%) and for 57/131 DRDs by non-injecting routes (44%, p < 0.001). Presence of dihydrocodeine, and anti-depressants was about three times and six times respectively, more likely in DRDs by non-injecting routes. Irrespective of route, two-thirds of DRDs tested positive for benzodiazepines (202/300 DRDs). Circumstances: time between overdose and death was within the hour for 61/137 DRDs (45%) by injecting, but rarely by non-injecting routes (3%: 4/131). Three out of four DRDs occurred in a house or flat: 98/137 DRDs (72%) by the injecting route and 101/131 (77%) by non-injecting routes. Interpretation: A relatively high proportion of cases died by non-injecting routes. National mortality databases should separate out cases of injecting-related DRD from non-injecting cases, and public health strategies to reduce DRDs should distinguish between these groups. Widespread availability in Scotland of prescribed and illicit benzodiazepines needs attention.