A CALL for action has been issued after drug-related deaths in Renfrewshire hit a record high.

Statistics released yesterday by the National Records of Scotland show that 50 people in the area died as a result of taking drugs last year – the highest number since records began in 1996.

The figure has multiplied more than eight times in the past 23 years, while it has more than doubled in the past decade.

Heroin was involved in 43 of the 50 deaths last year, while opiates or opoids were present in 46.

Etizolam and benzodiazepines were also prevalent, having been found in 34 people who died last year.

Councillor Jacqueline Cameron, chair of Renfrewshire Council’s new Alcohol and Drugs Commission, said urgent action is needed to stop the figures climbing even further.

She told The Gazette: “We recognise the impact drug use can have on the lives of families and their loved ones, as the loss of one person can be devastating for everyone involved.

“This is a public health issue faced across the country but, through our Alcohol and Drugs Commission, one of the first of its kind in Scotland, we will assess the true impact of drug and alcohol use in Renfrewshire and identify ways in which we can improve the lives of those affected.

“Partners from across health and social care, housing, justice, third sector and higher education will gather information and hear from people with lived experience as we work together to find solutions.”

Renfrewshire recorded the eighth highest total of drug-related deaths in Scotland last year, behind Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, Dundee, Aberdeen, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire.

Scotland’s Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said the country faces an “emergency” on this issue.

He added: “The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking.

“It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk.

“Last week, I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee and I asked for help in persuading the UK Government to either act now to enable us to implement a range of public health focused responses, including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities, or devolve the power to the Scottish Parliament so that we can act.

“I want to ensure that the work of the new taskforce which I have established is driven by strong evidence and that the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are heard.

“I am determined to shape our services in every walk of life to prevent harm and reduce the appalling number of deaths, so I will give consideration to any proposals they bring forward which may help to tackle this issue and, ultimately, save lives.”