SCOTLAND’S health minister has issued an urgent plea to the UK Government to help tackle an ongoing drugs crisis amid fears last year's death toll hit a record 1,200.

Joe FitzPatrick told Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee: “People are dying in Scotland now. We need action to save lives now.”

He insisted plans for a safe drugs consumption facility in Glasgow would help save lives, but the UK Home Office has refused to discuss them in any detail.

The proposals are backed by the Scottish Parliament and Glasgow City Council, but would currently be illegal under the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – fuelling calls for control over drugs legislation to be devolved to Scotland.

Mr FitzPatrick said: "People are dying. There’s a policy here which the evidence that I’ve seen, which the committee has seen, would suggest would save lives.

“I’m not for a second suggesting it is the be all and end all, and will end the drugs deaths.

“But all of the evidence is pointing to this being one of the tools which will save lives, and I just cannot understand how anyone with an ounce of humanity will not be prepared to take what I know will be difficult decisions, to help save those lives.”

The Home Office has previously said it has no plans to introduce a legal framework to allow drug consumption rooms in the UK.

Mr FitzPatrick told MPs he would be prepared to work with UK ministers to discuss what steps can be taken to address the ongoing drugs crisis if it is not possible for legislation to be devolved.

He added: "I don't want to have an argument about the constitution, but can we please work out how to make the changes."

He said the evidence for a drug consumption facility was “second to none”, and praised the “bold move” taken in Portugal to decriminalise drugs.

More than 900 deaths from drug overdoses were reported in Scotland in 2017, he told MPs – with that figure expected to have risen to as many as 1,200 last year. Statistics for 2018 are due to be released in the coming days.

He said: “There is absolutely no question the level of deaths in Scotland is higher than I think any other country in the world.

“And that is why we have to deal with it as the emergency that it is.”

Mr FitzPatrick insisted the reasons for Scotland’s high drugs death rate are complex and deep-rooted, but evidence suggests it goes back to policies pursued three decades ago under Margaret Thatcher.

He added: “The group who are dying in the main, is a group of people who were born between 1960 and 1980 – not an old group by any means.”

Earlier, Scotland’s top prosecutor told the committee staff and drug users would risk breaking a range of laws if a safe drugs consumption facility is opened in Glasgow under the current rules.

The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, said it was clear “an appropriate legislative framework” would be required to advance such a scheme.

However, he said there are “wide powers” for exceptions to be made under the existing law, adding: “A lot could be done through regulations.”

Committee convener Pete Wishart has appealed for the UK Government to send a minister to speak to the Scottish Affairs Committee to address the issue.