THE level of drug deaths in Scotland is a national scandal.

The recent publication of figures for 2020 showed a shocking 1,339 people died from drugs last year. This means that Scotland's drug death rate remains by far the worst in Europe.

While the number of drug-related deaths in the Wee County fell last year to nine down from 15 in 2019, this is still nine deaths too many.

Each loss of life is a tragedy and represents a failing of the state to support those dealing with addiction.

Scotland's drug death problem has got progressively worse over the past 14 years under the current government.

Over 10,000 people in Scotland have now sadly lost their lives since the SNP came to power.

There are many factors that might explain why this crisis has worsened, including the SNP's savage cuts to rehabilitation beds and a reduction in funding to Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships, but the biggest one has been the lack of attention paid to this issue.

In April this year, under questioning from the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, the first minister admitted that her government had taken its 'eye off the ball' when it comes to drug deaths. And we all know what that eye has been on instead.

We need to act fast to address this issue, but the first minister was missing from action when the new figures were announced.

After the Scottish Conservatives successfully pushed for a ministerial statement on the issue, the first minister left this to her junior minister.

The Scottish Conservatives have set out a clear plan for how we begin to turn a corner.

We have proposed a Right to Recovery bill that would guarantee that people can access treatment immediately when they need it.

Our bill has been developed with experts in recovery and treatment and is backed by seven frontline organisations, including FAVOR Scotland and Shelter.

It would begin to reverse the cuts to rehabilitation beds and enshrine a right to treatment in law.

But the Scottish Government has yet to back our bill, despite this backing from charities and experts.

It is also backed by MSPs in other parties, including some SNP MSPs who are reportedly privately supportive.

We need the government to act now and pledge their support. If we can pass COVID laws in just three days, surely we can act with the same sense of urgency on this vitally important issue.

We cannot end this crisis tomorrow, but we can set ourselves in the right direction.

We need to stop more families having to go through the pain and heartbreak of losing a loved one to drugs.

And we can do that, but only if we work together across party lines and across society in Scotland.

We in the Scottish Conservatives have made that pledge and we are inviting the Scottish Government to do the same.

It is incumbent on us as politicians to sort this problem and end the devastation once and for all.