SCOTLAND’S Public Health Minister has “pleaded” with the Home Office to help solve Scotland’s drug death crisis. Writing in The National, Joe FitzPatrick warns the UK government that “lives are at stake” unless they’re willing to change the law and allow safe consumption facilities in Glasgow.

But the Scottish Tories accused the SNP government of trying to pick a fight for the sake of picking a fight, claiming ministers were “hiding behind a ruse”.

Statistics released yesterday revealed there were 1187 drug-related deaths registered in Scotland in 2018, a staggering 27% increase on the previous year.

It’s the first time the number of fatalities has breached 1000. The number of deaths was a 107% increase on 2008 when 574 people died.

Last year’s figure also means that Scotland now has three times as many drug deaths as England, and the highest reported rate in Europe.

READ MORE: Scottish drug deaths: Austerity and cuts 'partly to blame'

The SNP, the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens all called for the UK Government to reform drug policy.

FitzPatrick, who earlier this month formed a drug death taskforce, called the figures “tragic”.

The National: Joe Fitzpatrick

He said the Scottish Government wanted to “take innovative and bold measures” including the proposal for medically-supervised drug consumption facilities in Glasgow, but were being stymied by the Home Office.

The Misuse of Drugs Act, which is reserved to Westminster, means that the facility cannot legally go ahead.

The Home Office yesterday said there was no “legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms and there are no plans to introduce them”.

FitzPatrick said: “These facilities are not a silver bullet but health professionals and experts agree their introduction could help tackle drug deaths and drug-related harm right now.”

He added: “I am pleading with the UK Government to at least sit down with me so we can discuss how we make these changes that, while difficult, are so tangibly necessary in the face of this debt paid in human lives.

“I know that I and any UK Government minister will never see eye to eye on the constitution, but frankly that simply does not matter here. Lives are at stake, please help us save them.”

READ MORE: Plea for Tories to work with Scottish Government over drug deaths

Scottish Tory public health spokeswoman Annie Wells accused FitzPatrick of cowardice. She said: “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 are 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.”

The SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who has long campaigned for the rooms, called for “decision-makers” to “get out from behind their desks at Westminster and come to Glasgow to see the scale of this esc- alating problem.”

The National:

“How many people need to die before Tory Ministers will finally admit there is a problem? Their obstinance has a human cost, and never before has it been so pronounced,” she said.

Dr Donna Mullen of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland agreed. She said: “What we need now are bold measures including embracing harm reduction and taking the treatment to the patient. The RCPSYCH in Scotland believes one such measure should be safe consumption rooms.”

Labour hit out at the SNP government’s cuts to Alcohol and Drug Partnerships.

MSP Monica Lennon said ministers “should be investing in Alcohol and Drug Partnership funding, not slashing support to those who badly need help.”

A Home Office spokesperson said it was carrying out a major review of drug misuse, adding: “The review, which is building on existing government strategies to combat drugs, serious violence and serious and organised crime, is examining the harms that drugs cause and the best ways to prevent drug-taking. We will ensure that lessons from the review are shared with our partners in the devolved administrations.”