The number of drug deaths in Scotland has reached the worst level on record.
Figures from the National Records of Scotland show that in 2019, 1,264 people died from drugs misuse – 77 more than in 2018, which is a 6% rise.
It was the largest number ever recorded in Scotland, more than double that of 10 years earlier.
Scotland’s public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick MSP said: “Each and every one of these deaths is a tragedy and I would like to offer my condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of those who have lost their lives.
“The Scottish government is doing everything in its powers to tackle rising drug deaths, and we are working urgently to put in place high-quality, person-centred services for those most at risk.”
In England and Wales, figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in October showed drug deaths in 2019 stood at 4,393. That was equivalent to 76.7 deaths per million.
The figure was similar to that in Ireland.
Drug campaigners in Scotland say that fake Valium, known as “street benzos”, are causing problems for users. The inexpensive drug is much stronger than prescription medication and is often taken in conjunction with heroin.
Scotland’s drug problem was declared a public health emergency 18 months ago, in the wake of the rise in death numbers.
The Scottish government has set up a drugs death taskforce and, while there has since been considerable scrutiny of the problem, it has not yet yielded a solution.
Drugs charities and support groups have criticised a long-term reduction in sufficient funding to tackle the problem. They point out that the drugs problem has been made worse by the social and economic impact of the COVID pandemic.
A cross-party group of MPs suggested that decriminalising drugs, which would allow for their possession for personal use, would reduce the stigma around drug use.
The policy in other European countries showed that it helped treatment programmes. The idea was backed by senior Scottish police officers and the Scottish Government’s drugs taskforce but it was rejected earlier this year by the UK government which has control over the law on drugs.
Campaigners in Scotland, however, argue that the Scottish government does not make appropriate use of its health and social care powers, which give it control over drug treatment services.
The city of Glasgow has long supported the concept of “safe consumption rooms”, which allow users to access drugs in safe and hygienic conditions.
Such facilities are used elsewhere around the world but the idea has been rejected by the UK government and so remains on the wrong side of the law.
Police in Glasgow charged a man who uses a van as a mobile consumption room. Peter Krykant, a drugs activist, operates the facility on the streets of Glasgow, allowing addicts the opportunity to access drugs in relatively controlled conditions.
In October, he was charged with obstructing police officers.