SCOTLAND’S statistics in relation to alcohol abuse make for grim enough reading, but the country also suffers major problems with drugs. Our drug-related death rate is higher than anywhere else in the UK or Europe.

And it’s increasing. Every year since 2014, numbers of both drug and opioid-related deaths have reached their highest recorded levels. All this is known, but a notable aspect of the latest statistics for fatal overdoses, issued yesterday, is the presence of antidepressants in victims.

Though not necessarily the cause of death, in 2016 they were found in 47 per cent of post-mortems. That’s an increase of 26 per cent from 2009. Part of the reason, as suggested by addictions expert Dr Ahmed Khan, seems to be that opiate users are more likely to suffer depression and have been increasingly referred to mental health services, where they are prescribed antidepressants.

It’s a grim picture. To appreciate the gravity of the situation regarding drug overdose deaths generally in Scotland, the rate at 16 per 100,000 is only 3.8 behind that in the United States – where it’s been declared a national public health emergency. We’re reaching a similar crisis point.

In both places, the situation suggests something deeply wrong in our societies. Drugs, like drink, are frequently taken as a form of escape. Individuals caught up in such problems are likely to be living among social deprivation, often alone and without a place in conventional society.

It’s the role of government to make our societies decent places to live in for all, not places from which to escape. In Scotland, with its complex constitutional position, we can argue indefinitely about whether any set of social circumstances is the responsibility of Holyrood or Westminster.

But this is not an issue where political finger-pointing is likely to achieve much. Certainly, there’s a place for antidepressants in mental health care and, indeed, campaigns to reduce the stigma of mental illness have caused more people to come forward for the likes of antidepressants.

Their increased association with the more serious end of drug use probably reflects their prevalence in wider society, though it was significant that, in this milieu, illicit use of such substances had increased.

Meanwhile, the stresses and strains of modern society, and the complex drug consumption that can go with these, won’t be tackled in a day. Longer-term solutions are required, such as more investment in mental health services, research into alternatives, and a better warning system to identify those at risk of overdose.

It’s dispiriting to keep hearing about Scotland’s desperate problems with drug and alcohol abuse. But we cannot give up hope that the situation can be changed.