The figures that were released last week on the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland made for some disturbing reading. Nearly 1,200 people across the country lost their lives as a result of problems with drugs. This amounted to a shocking 27 per cent rise on last year. This means that Scotland now has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe and the rate is roughly three times higher than the United Kingdom as a whole.

This is nothing short of a national emergency and we need urgent action from both of Scotland’s governments—Holyrood and Westminster—to tackle this problem. Miles Briggs, the Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for health, has written to the first minister asking her to chair a cross-party summit on Scotland’s drug emergency involving representatives from both governments and of all parties.

The SNP have been quick to point out that much of drugs policy is reserved to Westminster and they have tried to make out that their hands are tied on this issue. This is a disappointing and overly simplistic response to what is a national crisis. Problems with substance abuse are not a failing of our drugs policies alone, but the root causes of these problems go much deeper and fall within areas for which the Scottish Government has responsibility.

It is sadly no surprise that the rates of drug use are much higher in areas that are more deprived. Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow had the worst rates of substance misuse in the whole of Scotland. In fact, Public Health Scotland have said that drug use is 17 times higher in Scotland’s poorest areas than in its wealthiest. People in these areas are being let down and left behind by the SNP’s mismanagement of our schools, our hospitals and our economy.

We in the Scottish Conservatives have already put forward new proposals for how we can tackle addiction. We need to shift the focus of this discussion onto early intervention and prevention to nip drugs problems in the bud. We want to see local commissions for first-time offenders like those used in Durham. Rather than giving those caught in possession for the first time a criminal record, local commissions would have the power to prescribe treatment.

We also need to review the way we treat substance misusers. We need to move away from a drugs plan to help them manage their addiction and instead give users a life plan to help them end their addiction for good. We also need an independent review of the Methadone programme as almost half of the drugs-related deaths recorded in 2017 involved Methadone. Encouraging users to swap one addiction for another is not the right approach.

Worrying as these figures are, however, they might not tell the whole story. Dr. Emily Tweed of the University of Glasgow has suggested that they could account for less than half of the total number of drug-related deaths in Scotland. Some drug support workers are already saying that, six months into this year, the number of deaths is close to what it was for the whole of last year. We need to work together and fast before more lives are wasted.