LAST year, many of us were shocked when news emerged that twice as many people were dying from drug use compared to a decade ago.

Particularly striking was the stark difference in the figures between men and women: 241 per cent more women died because of drugs in 2016 than 2006, while the rise was 77 per cent for men in the same period.

It’s in that light, then, that it’s particularly disappointing to see a female MSP join the chorus of voices who speak about drug users as though they’re some sub-human problem needing a swift hand to deal with them.

This week, it was Scottish Tory MSP Annie Wells’s turn to trot out the old “tough love” line. After drugs adviser Dr Roy Robertson said people shouldn’t be prosecuted for personal drug use, Ms Wells said that a deterrent was essential, and warned: “The SNP’s soft-touch approach to illegal drugs will only facilitate misuse and mean more young people will endanger their lives and waste their potential.”

READ MORE: 'Soft-touch' drug approach will endanger more lives, says Scottish Conservative MSP

The comments come at a time when there is debate about the shape of future drugs policy. Dr Robertson’s call received support both from Police Scotland’s substance misuse lead, Chief Inspector Allan Elderbrant, and Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell.

But others want to go further. Inverclyde SNP MP Ronnie Cowan believes a more radical change in drug policy is required. He believes that the framing of drug misuse should be disconnected from the criminal justice system and placed firmly in the realms of a public health issue. He argues that decriminalisation of drug use should at least be up for consideration; it would reduce the harm caused by drugs, he believes, but it would mean accepting that the “war on drugs” has failed at a conceptual level as well as a practical one.

The problem is, of course, that Scotland couldn’t go down that road even if it wanted to. While health is a devolved area, drug policy is not. It remains at Westminster, leaving Scotland’s hands somewhat tied when it comes to policy. In this set-up it’s not really possible to deliver the kind of transformative change Mr Cowan would like to see.

READ MORE: 'Soft-touch' drug approach will endanger more lives, says Scottish Conservative MSP

Even relatively small moves become a momentous task when policy areas are caught between devolved powers. For example, MSPs recently voted in favour of providing “fix rooms” in Glasgow to enable users to safely inject drugs, and subsequently help reduce the spread of HIV and social conflict associated with street drug use.

However, MSPs don’t have the power to implement the scheme and the Home Office doesn’t appear to be budging on it. MP Alison Thewliss continues to fight in Westminster to get the go-ahead, but the UK Government insists its own drugs strategy takes precedence, and there are no intentions to follow the route Scotland wants to take.

Ten years ago, the Scottish Government published a strategy for dealing with Scotland’s drugs problem, and it is working on a refresh. One campaigner, Dave Liddell of the Scottish Drugs Forum, has suggested alternatives to the use of methadone. There appears to be an emerging consensus that dealing with drug use – be it at a recreational level or a much more dangerous, disruptive and lethal addiction – may mean setting aside traditional, stereotypical ideas about people who take drugs and what motivates them.

But the problem may ultimately be that Scotland simply can’t enact the changes it believes will help.

Conservative approaches to drug policy convey little empathy for those struggling in the grip of a hell that is all but impossible to understand for those who’ve never experienced it. It’s a special type of ignorance that enables those in positions of power to see desperate souls destroying their bodies and opportunities with an addiction they’ve lost all control over, and back a “throw away the key” approach to handling them.

These things are on a spectrum, and the wrong approach begins early. If young people who otherwise have plenty of options ahead of them in life find themselves criminalised for minor misdemeanours, it has a very serious effect on their future prospects. Those at the other end, who are trapped in the cycle of addiction and crime, are much less perturbed at the societal taboo of prison when they have all but lost touch with the rest of the world.

READ MORE: 'Soft-touch' drug approach will endanger more lives, says Scottish Conservative MSP

Ms Wells may not believe that a "soft" approach to drugs policy works, but equally, critics of a tougher approach would say the same. Either way, we have a long-standing problem and nobody has come up with the answers. So perhaps it is time to open our minds a little and at least entertain some of the more radical approaches and assess whether these might finally be the ones that work.

I see drug addicts every day in my community. I only need to look once to know that nobody in their right mind would choose the hand they’ve been dealt in life. I take time to seek out stories, information, and to try to understand exactly why it is so difficult for them to break through the constraints keeping them locked into addiction.

When I next take a walk through my community I’ll have the words of Ms Wells ringing in my ears and I’ll wonder what chance these people have when our elected politicians exhibit such short sightedness.

People dealing with debilitating addiction have often had more thrown at them in life than we could cope with. What they don’t need is another slap in the face, and especially not from Scotland’s politicians.