Newly released figures show that 1,339 people lost their lives to drugs during 2020, the largest number since records began in 1996 and the worst rate in Europe.
And, with nearly 350 deaths per million people, Scotland’s figure is far in excess of the places with the next most serious problems: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Great Britain as a whole are all below 100 drug-deaths per million.
But this is an issue that is not simply about the utter tragedy of the people who have died and those who mourn them, of individuals making a fatal mistake by starting to use heroin and other such substances.
People in the most deprived areas of Scotland were 18 times more likely to die from using drugs than those in the most affluent areas.
So our drugs problem is part of a bigger one: poverty and the lack of hope for the inhabitants of our poorest urban estates. It is the deepest despair that drives anyone to self-medicate with poison.
The effects are not just personal but societal. Streets where desperate addicts congregate can feel unsafe, while needles and other drug paraphernalia pose a risk to children.
And if we have a serious drugs problem, then it follows we also have a serious drug-crime problem, both in terms of thefts and other usually low-level crimes by the addicts themselves and more serious ones by the gangs involved in supply. Drug money helps organised crime to blight society in many ways, from murder and human trafficking to identity theft and fraud.
This makes Nicola Sturgeon’s admission before the May election that her government had taken its “eye off the ball” over drug-deaths all the more shocking. Was her eye distracted by visions of independence?
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross surely spoke for the nation when he said: “The drugs crisis is our national shame. It is a stain on Scotland that so many of our most vulnerable people have been left without hope, crushed by a system that is thoroughly broken.”
Sturgeon and her Cabinet bear the weight of that shame. They appear to be getting the message, but fine words mean little. We, the people, must hold them to account. Lives depend upon it.