Almost 1,200 people in Scotland suffered a drug-related death last year, the highest number ever recorded, official statisitcs have revealed.
The shocking figure, described as “a national crisis” by opposition MSPs, has prompted the Scottish Government to make a fresh call for the Home Office to allow a drug consumption room (DCR) to be piloted in Glasgow, where long-term addicts could be monitored by health officals.
A report published today by the National Records of Scotland revealed there were 1,187 drug-related deaths registered north of the Border in 2018 - an increase of 27 per cent year-on-year. It means, for the first time, that more Scots died from drugs than alcohol in a single year.
Scotland now has a drug-death rate nearly three times that of the UK as a whole. It is also the highest rate in Europe, although other EU nations have different ways of recording drug-related fatalities.
Of the deaths recorded last year, 72 per cent were male and 37 per cent were aged between 33 and 44. In the vast majority of cases - 86 per cent - the deaths were caused by opiates, such as heroin, or opoids, like methadone.
The rise in deaths has reignited the row over how to tackle what is widely described as a public health crisis.
SNP ministers - backed by the local council, health officials and drug support charities - have argued that a pilot DCR should be opened in Glagiw. Such facilities allow long-term addicts access to clean needles, with some evidence suggesting it helps lower HIV infection rates as a result.
But that position is strongly opposed by the Scottish Conservatives as well as the UK Government, which controls drug laws across the UK.
Public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick said: “The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking. It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue, and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk.
“Last week, I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee and I asked for help in persuading the UK Government to either act now to enable us to implement a range of public health focused responses - including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities - or devolve the power to the Scottish Parliament so that we can act.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Behind these heart-breaking numbers are devastated families who have lost sons, daughters, mothers and fathers, in every part of Scotland.
“Scotland’s drug crisis is out of control and the status quo cannot continue. That is why Scottish Labour has consistently called on SNP ministers to declare a public health emergency and use every power available to them to tackle this crisis.”
But the Scottish Conservatives criticised SNP ministers for their repeated demands for the introduction of a DCR - a policy which the Home Office has consistently signalled it will not allow.
Tory public health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “The crisis in relation to drugs-related deaths in Scotland should now be a number one concern for this SNP government.
“On its watch, these fatalities – all of which are avoidable – have more than doubled since it came to power.
“The SNP has had control over health and justice for 12 years, yet hasn’t managed to bring in anything that comes close to dealing with this problem.
“As these figures show, whatever drugs strategies it has adopted have only made things worse. Predictably, in their desperation, the nationalists are now pinning their hopes on consumption rooms, because they know it’s something the UK Government does not agree with.
“That’s a cowardly approach from those ministers who’re meant to be taking responsibility. Instead, they’re hiding behind a ruse.
“They should be focusing their efforts on rehabilitation and abstinence-based recovery, the very services they have cut to the bone.”