RESPONDING to yesterday’s grim statistics, the campaign group Release pointed out that in Portugal, for every one million people, four will die a drug-related death. In Scotland, the death rate is now closer to 220 per million.

While Scotland does have a higher number of people with an opiate-based drug problem than the rest of the UK, only 40% of people with a drug problem are in treatment.

Many of them don’t stay the course, falling through the gaps, never being chased up by stretched services.

Writing on the website The Conversation, academics Alex Stevens and Andrew McAuley point out that while ministers had promised an extra investment in drug and alcohol treatment of £20 million per year until 2021, this followed widely criticised £15m cut in 2016-17.

“It falls far short of what is required to address a public health crisis,” they say.

The two also said the deaths were “highest among working-class people in deprived areas, who have often been ignored in British drug policy making”.

READ MORE: Scottish drug deaths: Joe FitzPartick's plea to Tories for talks

Niamh Eastwood, the director of Release, said it was impossible to ignore “the impact that austerity measures have had on people in some of the most deprived areas of the country, including parts of Scotland”.

She added: “The removal of proper social safety nets, as we have witnessed with benefit cuts and the introduction of Universal Credit, are also significant contributors to these appalling statistics. These statistics are people’s lives – each person is someone’s daughter, son, brother or sister.”

David Liddell from the Scottish Drugs Forum said that part of the problem was NHS boards across the country prescribing “sub-optimal doses” of heroin substitutes methadone or buprenorphine.

He said: “If people are not getting the substitute medication dose they require, it is no wonder they ‘top up’ with street drugs and get involved in polydrug use – which is a huge feature in these figures accounting for the vast majority of deaths.”

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

James Nicholls, chief of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the “failure of politicians in Westminster and Holyrood to act is simply shameful”.

He added: “This crisis is a consequence of policies they support, and continue to impose, despite deaths increasing year after year. Bereaved families may wonder why the UK Drugs Minister won’t visit Scotland to better understand why their loved ones died, or appear before Scottish MPs to justify her government’s failed approach.”

Calum Steele from the Scottish Police Federation said the deaths were “a national emergency.”

He said: “It’s right addiction is looked at as a health issue but behind every one of these deaths a dealer somewhere profited and cares not a jot.”

Steele added: “In amongst the justifiable shock at drug death figures it should not be forgotten that 1200 deaths also provide 1200 starting points for investigations to identify dealers and pedlars of misery.

“Sadly, a massively overstretched police service no longer has the capacity to do that.”