WESTMINSTER has been told to let Scotland take the action needed to fight the drugs deaths crisis as campaigners also warned about the rising negative impact of synthetic narcotics.

The calls come after the National Records of Scotland published figures showing that 1051 people died a drug-related death in 2022. While this represents a fall from the 1330 record in 2021, it is still 15 times the EU average, according to the Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

Alex Feis-Bryce, that charity’s chief executive, said: “It’s hugely reassuring to see the numbers go down but they are still far too high. Each one of these deaths is an avoidable tragedy.

READ MORE: There's no magic bullet, but the 'war on drugs' is causing untold harm

“This crisis will require a transformative approach to really reduce the deaths. Westminster must allow Scotland to pilot proven measures like Overdose Prevention Centres where no one dies from overdoses, decriminalising people with drugs for their own use like in Portugal, and exploring legal regulation of drugs to make the market safer.”

In July, the Scottish Government announced it was backing the decriminalisation of personal drug use in order to shift the issue from a criminal problem to a health one and “help save lives”.

Despite misreporting at the time, decriminalisation is not equivalent to legalisation. Drugs would still be controlled substances, but users would face health interventions rather than criminal sanctions.

However, the UK Government rejected the idea out of hand within hours.

READ MORE: Peter Krykant: Scotland must act on drug deaths even if the UK won’t

On Tuesday, Jolene Crawford, a member of the Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control campaign who lost a cousin to the crisis, called for decriminalisation.

She said: “Behind each number is a real person, who once had hopes and dreams – as did my cousin Alan. It’s been 15 years since his death and Scotland remains the drug death capital of Europe.

“The recent support in Scotland for decriminalising drugs gives our family hope for the first time because it would break the cycle of deaths and misery by making drugs a health matter, not a criminal issue.”

The National: Peter Krykant and drug consumption van at Parnie Street, Glasgow..Mark F Gibson / Gibson Digital .infogibsondigital@gmail.co.uk.www.gibsondigital.co.uk..All images © Gibson Digital 2020. Free first use only for editorial in connection with the

Peter Krykant (above), a prominent drugs safety campaigner known for setting up his own safe consumption space, said the latest drugs deaths figures showed the need for “more action”.

“With synthetic drugs appearing we need Overdose Prevention Sites, DAT [diamorphine assisted treatment] and drug-checking right now!” he wrote on Twitter/X.

Feis-Bryce also warned about the devastating impact the rising popularity of synthetic drugs could have.

He said: “If the Taliban’s ban on opium production in Afghanistan is extended, which is the source of 95% of UK heroin, the market may fill with super-potent synthetic opioids like nitazenes and fentanyl instead.

“These are already beginning to appear in Scotland and could cause deaths to spiral. All political parties must urgently put aside political point-scoring and come together to deliver a public health approach.”

The National: Benzodiazepines

Belinda Phipps, the chief executive of the support charity With You, also noted the issue, saying: “The majority of drug-related deaths in Scotland are linked to opiates and benzodiazepines, as well as the emergence of synthetic substances. We know that people are using these drugs because of underlying trauma and mental health issues; they are looking for a way to numb painful feelings.

“As a society, we have to become more empathetic and remove the stigma attached to drug use so that vulnerable people feel able to ask for help. And when people do ask for help, we need to ensure it is immediately and easily available.

“Last month the Scottish Government called for drug testing and decriminalisation through its ambitious drugs law reform proposal. While this forward-thinking approach is to be applauded, we need to move faster and commit long-term resources to improving those areas already within our control, such as reducing waiting times and improving the quality of services.”

READ MORE: Scots Tories 'inflaming drugs debate with false information', top campaigner says

Elena Whitham, the Scottish Government’s Drugs Policy Minister, welcomed the fall in recorded drugs-related deaths from 2021, but stressed she would “never underestimate the scale of the challenge we continue to face, including responding to new threats such as synthetic opioids and stimulant use”.

She went on: “As part of our £250 million National Mission on drugs, we’ll continue to focus on getting more people into the form of treatment and support they need, expand access to residential rehabilitation and drive the rollout of life-saving Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Standards where we are making significant progress.

“As we highlighted in our recent Drug Law Reform proposals, the UK Government could do more to work with us to help introduce harm reduction measures.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross insisted that the Government "must stop talking about decriminalisation of drugs" and instead called for the SNP to back his own "right to recovery" bill.

“This landmark legislation, which has the backing of experts in the field of addiction, would tackle the problem of accessing treatment by enshrining in law the right of everyone to receive a recovery programme tailored to their needs," Ross claimed.

A spokesperson for the UK Government said: “We have no plans to decriminalise drugs given the associated harms, including the risks posed by organised criminals, who will use any opportunity to operate an exploitative and violent business model.

“While we are pleased to see a fall in drug-related deaths in Scotland, any such incident is a tragedy and we are committed to working closely across the UK to tackle the devastating issue of drug misuse in society.”