FOUR in every ten women who die a drug-related death have previously been reported as victims of domestic abuse, new figures have revealed.

A leading expert described the link as disturbing.

David Liddell, the director of the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) said addicts often endured abuse at home, but could miss out on proper support due to the stigma surrounding their drug use. He was speaking after official figures revealed that four out of every ten women who suffered a drug related death in 2012 also had a history of domestic abuse.

Mr Liddell said: "This figure should be disturbing to all of us. One of the challenges for a woman with a drug problem and on the receiving end of domestic abuse is where to go for help when they are doubly stigmatised."

As their cases had all been recorded as domestic abuse, police or other services had plainly been involved but had not referred the women involved for suitable support, and services currently available may not be what is needed, he added.

"Prejudice and the complex nature of the presenting problems means that services are too often falling short in responding appropriately," he said.

"One explanation for the high level of deaths could be that, with little help available, the women use more substances as a means of escape and as a result put themselves at greater risk of an overdose."

The statistics were compiled by Information Services Division of the NHS and analysed a subset of 479 drug-related deaths in Scotland.

It was found that of the 118 females who overdosed, 40% had previously suffered from domestic abuse. In addition, 42% had been a victim of sexual abuse.

The Scottish Government say they are currently developing new counselling methods for those seeking drug support. They also insist that funding to tackle violence against women has never been higher.

A spokesperson said: "In collaboration with a wide-range of stakeholders, including the Scottish Drugs Forum, the Scottish Government will shortly publish a set of principles that set out what someone who accesses drug rehabilitation services can expect to encounter, which will include support for past trauma, including domestic abuse."

The link between drugs, alcohol and mental health is already established in deaths of men as well as women, the spokesperson said.

"We are also acutely aware of the link between the misuse of drugs and violence against women which is why funding for violence against women is at record levels.

"We will continue to work with the Scottish Drugs Forum to explore how they can support women affected by domestic abuse."