KARYN McCluskey, chief executive of Community Justice Scotland, has had enough. 

“One thousand two hundred and sixty four. It’s the equivalent of a whole secondary school dying from drugs in a year in Scotland. Everyone. And then some more,” she said.

“Drugs may have killed them – but you could also say they died because of hopelessness, trauma, neglect and missed opportunities,” she said.

The latest figures - released today - show Scotland has a higher drug-related death rate than any other EU country, and three and a half times the rate of the UK as a whole. 

The data from the National Records of Scotland, revealed that 1264 people died in 2019 with causes linked to substances - a 6% increase on 2018.

READ MORE: Scotland's drug-related deaths reach record levels

McCluskey said it’s time to stop “rearticulating the problem”.

“Everyone knows what it is. We’ve known it for years,” she said. “We are lacking some verbs in our sentence, the doing words, what are we doing to make sure that next year and the year after, we are changing the direction. Let’s not get to the end of 2021 thinking ‘I wish I had done more’.” 

Andrew Horne from the drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You, said the dead had been “let down by their society.”  

He added: “Scotland considers itself a proud, progressive and socially conscious country and I consider that to be true. But these figures are at odds with our identity.” 

Horne said progress had been made in the past year, thanks in part to rollout of opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone, with more police and family members having access to the treatment.  

However, he said the statistics made clear there were problems with Scotland's opioid substitution therapy programme. 

Of those who died, 44% had methadone in their system. 

“It’s clear from the number of deaths which involve methadone that not enough people are on the correct dose to stop them using heroin on top," Horne said.  

“Increasing the use of other substitute medications such as buprenorphine, where appropriate, could help reduce the chances of some people overdosing, as it prevents the use of heroin having any effect.”   

Horne added: “We need to recognise that problematic drug use is often a reaction to people’s surroundings. Issues such as rising homelessness, poor mental health and a lack of economic opportunities in some areas all lead to people using drugs. It’s therefore no surprise that drug-related deaths are highest in Scotland’s most deprived areas, with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis likely to exacerbate many of these issues unless decisive action is taken.” 

He also called for safe consumption facilities to be given the go ahead to open in Scotland. 

While drug laws are reserved to Westminster, health and policing is devolved to Holyrood.

The Scottish Government has long-backed introducing supervised drug consumption rooms, but the UK Government is completely opposed. 

However, campaigners - like Peter Krykant who runs an informal consumption room from the back of his van in Glasgow city centre - argue that the Lord Advocate, could provide legal cover for the rooms in the form of a “letter of comfort” stating that drug consumption rooms could operate without fear of criminal prosecution. 

Earlier this year, the chief law officer provided similar guidance for naloxone.

However, he has so far refused to budge from his 2017 position, saying that there needs to be a change in the law at Westminster first. 

READ MORE: Andrew Tickell: Lord Advocate has a role to play over safe consumption rooms

There are nearly 100 officially sanctioned drug consumption rooms across the world, and none has ever recorded an overdose death.

Professor Angela Thomas, acting president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, backed the call for the DCRs to be established. She said the figures were “absolutely heartbreaking.” 

“This is a public health emergency, which requires a collaborative approach between government, public health agencies, political parties and the clinicians who are dealing with the crisis on the front line.” 

She added: “The College believes that some key interventions can be taken now including the introduction of a drugs consumption room, and a heroin assisted treatment programme in all major centres in Scotland as we see already in Glasgow.

"This could be particularly useful, as the 2019 statistics indicate that heroin continues to be a heavy cause of drug related deaths in Scotland.” 

James Nicholls, CEO of Transform Drug Policy Foundation said “political stalemate and partisan squabbling" had prevented action.

He added: “As a result, Scotland has the highest drug-related death rates in the world. This has been getting worse for years, and it needs to stop now.  

“Bereaved families across Scotland have the right to demand change, and Ministers in Westminster and Holyrood have a duty to deliver it.  The Home Office must allow Scotland to adopt a health-led approach in order to tackle the crisis – including allowing overdose prevention centres to be legally established, rather than leaving individuals to risk arrest providing this vital service.”

Jolene Crawford, who lost her cousin to a drug overdose over a decade ago, and who now campaigns with Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control, said: "It is with a very heavy heart that I read the news of drug deaths in Scotland rising again to a record high, making us the drug death capital of the world. How many more families must endure the agony of losing a loved one, like our family did? They talk, while we are dying. How many more need to be sacrificed before real action is taken?” 

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs CEO Justina Murray said today’s statistics shouldn’t be the end of the conversation: “This year we are asking everyone to remember that living with substance use and loss is an everyday experience for families, and that they need to be supported, included and recognised 365 days a year."