SCOTLAND’s Drugs Policy Minister has called on the UK Government to stop “criminalising some of the most marginalised and vulnerable individuals” after the country remains the drug deaths capital of Europe.

Angela Constance has insisted she will not quit her position after the annual number of drug deaths essentially stood still moving from 1,339 in 2020 to 1,330 in 2021, according to new statistics from the National Records of Scotland.

Scotland still has the highest drugs death rate in Europe.

Ms Constance told The Herald that the lack of progress does not show her Government’s “national mission” to tackle drugs deaths is having no meaningful impact.

She said: “What these heart-breaking figures show is that we need to do more. The national mission is always open to scrutiny and the Scottish Government is accountable.

“At the very core of the national mission is about getting more people into the recovery or treatment that is right for them.”

Ms Constance admitted that “there is much more to do”.

She said: “Our strategy, which is based on the very best of international evidence, is also about preventing drug problems and drug deaths in the first place.

“We need to do more in terms of the implementation of MAT standards. There is progress on the ground in and around MAT standards but it is not big enough or fast enough. For the first time, we have a ministerial direction to scrutinse and support activity at a local level.”

The Scottish Government has insisted it will continue to tackle the drugs death crisis as a public health emergency, but UK ministers want to use the criminal justice system to address substance misuse.

READ MORE: 'Unacceptable': Scotland's drug death crisis flatlines with 1,330 annual fatalities in 2021

Ms Constance has called for the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act to be overhauled – which would pave the way for safe consumption rooms to be rolled out in Scotland with a simple legal route.

She said: “It is no secret that on some matters, there is a parting of ways – a different approach held.

"I am very clear that we need to have a full public health approach to what is a public health emergency.

“I communicate regularly with the UK Government on the issues that we have in common.

“We have very different views on the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Misuse of Drugs Act is outdated, it’s ineffective, it needs to be reviewed."

Ms Constance added: “We also, as politicians, need to have the courage to really engage and discuss and work with communities about what will work.

“What we know doesn’t work is criminalising some of the most marginalised and vulnerable individuals in the country. That doesn’t make communities safer – in fact, it adds to the harm.”

Asked if she will take personal responsibility for the lack of progress, Ms Constance insisted: “I’m not a quitter and I’ve never under-estimated the scale of a challenge”.

She added: “When there are blockages or things don’t happen fast enough, I am committed to find ways to overcome those barriers.”