Drug-related deaths reached a record high in Scotland last year, new figures have revealed.
There were 867 drug-related deaths in 2016, a 23 per cent increase on 2015.
There are now two and a half times more drug deaths in Scotland compared to the UK as a whole and more deaths per capita than any other EU country.
Drug deaths have almost quadrupled in Scotland over the last 20 years, up from 244 deaths in 1996.
Drugs including heroin, morphine and methadone were implicated in the overwhelming majority of deaths. Methadone alone was connected to 362 deaths (42 per cent).
Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of the deaths were among people over the age of 35.
The official statistics were released in a report by the National Records of Scotland.
Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health and Sport, said: “What we are seeing is an ageing group of people who are long-term drugs users.
“They have a pattern of addiction which is very difficult to break, and they have developed other chronic medical conditions as a result of this prolonged drugs use.”
“There are no easy solutions, but we recognise that more needs to be done”, she added.
A spokesman for the Scottish Drugs Forum said: “We now face a situation where the majority of those seeking help for a drug problem will be older and will be more vulnerable due to multiple health issues.”
Last September, a Scottish man shared his story of how he has been given methadone by doctors for 21 years.
George Allan was first given methadone to treat his diazepam habit aged 22.
Speaking 21 years later, he said: “I’d love to get off it but I don’t know if it will ever happen. There is never much conversation with doctors about actually getting drug-free.
“People are more interested in keeping you turning up every day to get your [prescription].”
The case was highlighted as a drug misuse expert accused the Scottish Government of simply ‘parking’ people on methadone rather than helping them to become drug-free.
Professor Neil McKeganey criticised the ‘Road to Recovery’ drug strategy, blasting it as a “total failure”.