SCOTLAND has made considerable strides in confronting the issue of knife crime, to the extent that beleaguered London has launched a similar approach of its own. In terms of the frightening statistics relating to drug deaths, however, Scotland has a grim problem on its hands; a problem, moreover, to which no easy solutions suggest themselves.

The figures bear repeating. In 2018, no fewer than 1,187 people in Scotland died a drug-related death – up 27 per cent on 2017. The rate is nearly triple that of the UK as a whole; and, at nearly 22 deaths per 100,000 people, the Scottish toll has outstripped even that of the US.

All sorts of worrying trends emerge. For instance, many deaths were linked to the use of multiple drugs at once – or poly drug-use, as it is known. Moreover, there were nearly two deaths every day last year related to the use of “street Valium”.

People who had abused alcohol were switching to cheap drugs in the wake of the introduction of minimum unit pricing which brought an an end to cheap drinking and multi-buy promotions. And, among those aged between 15 and 24, there was a huge rise in fatalities with 65 Scots suffering drug-related deaths, up from 26 on the previous year.

One of the saddest commentaries has been the observation that there may be a generational factor in drug use: in other words, deaths are often among the children of people who themselves abused drugs and subjected their offspring to traumatic childhoods, from which they never quite recovered. Philip Larkin’s line about man handing on misery to man has rarely seemed more apposite, just as warnings that we may be seeing the rise of a new “Trainspotting generation” have rarely been as chilling as they are now.

Insofar as effective drugs education in schools is concerned, many teachers and pupils find it difficult to conduct frank discussions about harm reduction. This is something that should be examined.

On the wider issue of drug deaths, political bickering does not help. Nor, it has to be said, does the fact that many of us look the other way from drug addicts. And while poverty, inadequate local infrastructure, poor facilities and years of under-investment in housing and the environment are part of the problem, addressing these areas won't solve the entire issue. The problem goes much deeper than just poverty. The more one looks behind the headlines, the more complicated, fractured and challenging the issue becomes.

Is the Scottish Government doing everything it can to address the trauma caused by drug users’ backgrounds and resultant mental health issues? Should methadone prescriptions be raised so that the users concerned no longer feel an urge to add to methadone with street drugs? Can anything be learned from Portugal, where drug-related deaths have been all but eliminated since the decriminalisation of drugs 18 years ago? Ought we to be multiplying the number of safe injection rooms, beyond current plans for a projected provision, in Glasgow, which would cater for only around 350 people?

Joe FitzPatrick, Scotland’s public health minister, has established a taskforce to examine what works and to advise on the changes required. He has acknowledged the need to take bold measures to tackle mental health and other issues. The challenge facing the taskforce has been thrown into sharp relief by the latest statistics, but this is an issue that has to be treated with the utmost urgency and political co-operation.

The right note

THE HebCelt Festival deserves praise for the 50-50 gender balance among its performers, though KT Tunstall is correct to say that ratios on their own don't work. Quality, as ever, is what counts. But anything that gives female musicians a wider platform should be encouraged. It is a good start.