Politicians have called for actions rather than debate to tackle the issue of Scottish drug deaths.

It was revealed on Friday that Scotland remains the drug deaths capital of Europe after new statistics revealed 1,339 Scots died from drug misuse in 2020 – the highest annual total since records began in 1996.

The data means Scotland continues to have a drug death rate more than three and a half times greater than the UK as a whole and higher than any other European country - with 21.2 deaths per 1,000 of the population.

READ MORE: 'Heartbreaking': Scotland's drug deaths worst since records began as 1,339 died in 2020

The latest edition of The Brian Taylor podcast focused on the question: 'What do we do about Scotland's drug deaths problem?'

Willie Rennie, the former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, Greens MSP for Central Scotland Gillian Mackay and SNP’s Westminster Deputy Leader Kirsten Oswald voiced their opinions on how to tackle the issue.

Speaking on the episode Ms Mackay said that it should be tackled as a “public health issue” and that safe consumption rooms should be part of the solution.

She said: “We need to stop it being a criminal justice issue, it’s a public health issue.

“Residential rehab isn’t right for everybody. We need to make sure that there is wrap around support with mental health support, housing support, all those other things that ensure that we treat the person as a whole and don’t ask for abstinence always in response to the sort of care and support that they need.”

The Conservatives have proposed a Right to Recovery Bill, which would enshrine in law a guarantee that everyone in Scotland who needs drug treatment can receive it.

Mr Fraser argued that “intensive rehabilitation is the way to break the habit”.

He said: “We have some excellent facilities in Scotland, world-leading facilities, where nearly all their clients are from either other parts of the UK or other parts of Europe, and yet there are very few from Scotland.

“If you look and compare Scotland’s drug problem to other parts of the UK that have exactly the same laws around safe consumption rooms, they don’t have the issues we do. So I think that’s a very small part of a much more complex picture and the focus should be getting funding and support in drug rehab.”

Mr Rennie, who called for “international best practice” on tackling the problem accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of “queasiness” about drug consumption in the past, adding “the government cut the funds at a time the drug deaths were going up”.

“Back in about 2014, 2015, I remember debating with her at that point the whole drugs issue and to be frank she was reluctant to do any radical reform in this area, and I don’t quite know why that was,” he said.

The outgoing Scottish Lib Dem leader also called for a pilot of safe consumption rooms in Scotland. 

He described the cut of funds by the government to tackle drug issues as a “fundamental mistake, and that should never have happened." 

He added: "It took a long time for the government to catch up and I think at the root of that was queasiness from the leadership and that really should have been acknowledged a few years ago and perhaps we might not be in as bad a position as we are now.”

Ms Oswald said that when Ms Sturgeon spoke about the issues, she did so “thoughtfully and frankly”. 

“When we’re thinking about how we try and improve the situation, the steps that are being taken are important and the right ones, the funding and the Minister which has been put in place,” she said, “We do acknowledge that this is a challenge and has been a challenge, I’m not sure anybody is doing anything other than working out how we do tackle this now, and I think that the public health approach, when you look at the big picture, is the right one - think about how knife crime in Glasgow was tackled with that kind of approach and made a sustainable difference.”

You can listen to the full podcast on Spotify, Apple or Acast.