SCOTLAND had the highest drugs death rate in Europe last year after doubling in decade, leading to calls for it to be declared a national public health emergency.

Politicians are facing severe criticism as the 2017 annual toll of lives lost - typically older opiate addicts of the nation’s Trainspotting generation - hit yet another historic high.

Drug workers insist deaths are avoidable and have condemned a UK Government block on practical, life-saving proposals such as the shelved plan for Glasgow consumption rooms.

Dave Liddell, of the Scottish Drug Forum, said it was time “to support the last group in Scotland about whom it seems acceptable to express utter contempt and hatred based on irrational prejudice and stigma.”

The campaign group Scottish Families Affected by Drugs and Alcohol called for public health emergency to be declared.

It added: “There are many and complex reasons for this sharp increase in drug-related deaths but we need to start from a place where we recognise these deaths are completely preventable.”

According to official figures, the death toll of 934 represented a rise of 66 from the year before. It is also the largest number since Scotland started counting drug deaths in 1996 and is more than double the total recorded in 2007. Just the increase in drugs deaths was higher than Scotland’s annual loss to murder. 

The country has also lost 10,000 people since drug death figures started being collated – the equivalent, says Mr Liddell, of a town such as Fort William.

Many of those who died did so decades after starting to use heroin the boom years after the drug first arrived in Scotland in large quantities in 1980.

Three-quarters of the dead were over 35 while more than a third were over 45. Eighteen of those who lost their lives were pensioners.

However, deaths of the under-25s fell, to 39, down from a peak of 100 in 2002. Three of those who lost their lives were 14 or younger.

The Scottish drugs death rate is the highest in the European Union, two and a half times higher per capita than in England and Wales and 50 times higher per capita than in Portugal, which largely treats narcotics as a medical problem.

Campaigners for the UK to drop its law-enforcement focus on drugs latched on to that last number.

Martin Powell, of Transform, said: “Portugal - which massively reduced deaths by decriminalising people who use drugs, and putting health, not punishment at the heart of their approach.”

Mr Powell set out harm-reduction policies adopted across Europe but which have failed to get off the ground in Scotland, such as heroin.

These include consumption rooms - which council and NHS leaders want to create in Glasgow so users can take drugs under supervision in a place where they can be clean and safe.

Conservatives at Westminster have blocked such a move - and failed to budge on wider decriminalisation despite Home Office advisors urging them to do so.

Scottish Tories, however, focused  their fire on Scottish authorities.

Glasgow MSP Annie Wells said: “Whatever respective Scottish Governments have tried has not worked, that is plain from these atrocious statistics. We need a radical and urgent drugs strategy.

“Not one that waves the white flag in the face of drug-dealers and those who profit from this despicable industry, but one that gets tough on the issue.

“We need to help vulnerable people beat the habit once and for all, not park them on methadone just to watch them die from that very substance years later.”

One expert privately characterised such get-tough rhetoric as “depressing”.

Holyrood cannot change UK wide drug laws but it is responsible for both the justice and health systems and the care of people with drug problems.

Its current drugs strategy - which was crafted when it was a minority and needed Tory support - is being redrafted.

Mr Liddell and others want more focus on harm reduction.

Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar said the new figures were “shocking” and that the old drug strategy had “failed”.

He added: “The SNP has slashed alcohol and drug partnership funding at a time when drug deaths were hitting record levels. SNP ministers need to give themselves a shake and take responsibility for their actions. If you underfund vital substance misuse services people die.”

Scotland’s newly appointed public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said a refreshed drugs strategy would be “direct response” to both changing drug patterns and the rise in deaths.

He added: “The new strategy will take a person-centred approach so that treatment and support services address people’s wider health and social needs, such as mental health, employability and homelessness.”