SCOTTISH MPs have made an impassioned plea for reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act, which one of them – Tommy Sheppard – said has been an “abject failure” since it was introduced 50 years ago.

The Edinburgh East SNP MP told a Commons debate that we are facing “the biggest social policy catastrophe of our generation”, with thousands dying needlessly every year, “because we do not know what they are taking, and help is not available for them”.

Sheppard wondered what it said about MPs’ ability to function as a legislators dealing with such a major social problem that it has been on the statute book for 50 years without review, or amendment.

He also attacked the “brutal violence” used by organised crime in the drugs trade and told MPs to wake up and see what is happening in their own constituencies: “Come and stand in a bar and make your intentions known … within one hour, you will be offered any drug of your choice.

“If you don't want to have the personal contact … go on the internet and you will find a mobile phone number … order whatever you want, and it will be delivered to your door.

“Sometimes you will even get a customer service message asking for feedback on the supply.

“It's just fantasy to suggest that there are a loads of people out there who might otherwise get into drugs who are somehow prevented from doing so by the Misuse of Drugs Act.

“So, we need to surely have a grown-up conversation about what we do in the situation where a third of our citizens, potentially could be made criminals by the existing legislation, and where it is so manifestly unfit for purpose.”

Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan said the purpose of the 1971 Act was to prevent the misuse of controlled drugs, but by any measure the Act had failed, and it was an “abomination” that it had been allowed to fail for 50 years.

Cowan said the jobs law enforcement was being asked to do was “impossible”, with drugs policy firmly entrenched in the past.

“One tablet is all it takes, and a life can be lost because they're not regulated,” he said. “Other countries are not inflicted by this paralysis, they have decriminalised and legalised drugs to consumption rooms, they have diversion schemes.”

Cowan referred to schemes in Catalonia and Portugal, which he said were humane, because they treated drug addiction as a health issue and not a criminal justice one.

He said: “That can only happen when there's a change of mindset, the facilities, the provision of services.

“We need to waken up to the reality, the policies we're pursuing are not doing any good, and in some cases, are actually making the situation worse.”

Alison Thewliss, the SNP member for Glasgow Central said Westminster could allow the Scottish Government to take action to save lives, with medically supervised consumption rooms, safe injection facilities, or other, different means.

She added: “If it saved one person from being added to the grim total of drug deaths in Scotland, it would be worth it.”

Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill hit out at what he called the “colourful businessmen” behind the drugs trade.

He added: “We know who they are, we know where they get their money, and actually the Misuse of Drugs Act fuels that and provides for it. 

“That’s why we have to change.”