THE SCOTTISH Conservatives will bring forward ‘right to rehab’ plans after recovery experts warned Scotland’s drugs deaths figures “undoubtedly will rise” due to treatment delays.

Scotland currently has the worst drugs death rate in Europe and a rate around three and a half times worse than England and Wales.

The latest figures released in December showed 1,265 people died from drugs misuse in 2019 - a 6% annual rise and more than double the total of deaths in 2014.

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Tories, is launching a ‘right to rehab’ pledge alongside CEO of Favor Scotland, Annemarie Ward.

The commitment would enshrine people’s right to access residential rehabilitation services into law, to prevent people being denied treatment.

At last week’s STV leaders’ debate, Nicola Sturgeon admitted her government "took our eye off the ball" in relation to Scotland’s soaring drugs death rate.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: We took our eye off the ball on drug deaths

Recovery organisation, Favor Scotland, has recently sought senior legal counsel to bring cases to court when people are denied access to rehabilitation or drug treatment.

The ‘right to rehab’ policy, which will be brought before Holyrood in the first week of the new parliamentary term, will enshrine a right to the necessary treatment in law, draw up national standards and referral guidance to increase the accessibility of rehabilitation programmes.

It will also see a dedicated and autonomous national funding pot set up to bypass alcohol and drugs partnerships.

Mr Ross said: “For too long, the government has taken its eye off the ball, by its own admission. Tackling drug deaths has not been a priority and that has to change now. Too many lives have already been lost.

“We will seek to enshrine a right to rehab in law to make sure that everyone who wants help gets access to the treatment they need, accompanied by a central fund to bypass the broken system.

“We will keep campaigning and forcing the SNP to act for as long as it takes to improve access to treatment services and get people the help they need to get well.”

READ MORE: MSPs pledge to look at decriminalisation of drugs for personal use

Ms Ward has warned that “the situation on the ground is getting worse”.

She added: “Drug death numbers undoubtedly will rise. This is yet another heartbreaking year for the recovery and treatment community.

“We are told funding is coming but it is not reaching the frontline. The current system is broken.

“A postcode lottery has developed and unbelievably, it is people in the hardest hit areas, particularly in Glasgow, who are still being denied access to treatment.”

She said that the issues are not exclusive to residential rehabilitation.

Ms Ward said: “We have advocated for a young man in Edinburgh who has waited eight weeks for a methadone script. Who knows how long it will be before he is referred to rehabilitation.

“Denying access to a viable and successful treatment option, particularly when it is refused purely because someone has been prescribed a higher dose of methadone, is a cruel and short-sighted approach.”

READ MORE: Scottish Greens pledge to end 'failed' war on drugs

She added: “We have sought counsel and, if we can raise the necessary funds, we hope to mount legal challenges every time someone is denied access to rehabilitation services or delayed access to other substance use treatment.

“We have a problem in Scotland that is not being tackled and Favor will work with anyone and everyone to force change and save lives.”

Following an outcry last year, the First Minister replaced public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick with Mairi Gougeon and named Angela Constance as a newly-created Minister for Drugs Policy.

The SNP Government has committed a £250 million investment programme to build up rehabilitation services, including residential rehabilitation.