NEEDLE exchange clinics should be reinstated to battle the record numbers of drug users overdosing and dying, a charity boss has said.

Andrew Horne, director of Addaction Scotland, said the current system which sees drug addicts trade in used syringes for new ones at pharmacies had reduced the opportunity for specialists to intervene and help steer them towards rehabilitation services.

It comes as figures reveal that a record number of people were admitted to hospital in 2016 after overdosing on opioids including heroin, opium and methadone.

The category can also include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine.

A total of 2507 people were hospitalised in 2016, the highest number since current records began in 1999. Of those admitted to hospital following an opioid overdose, 24 died.

It comes in the wake of figures in August which showed that total drug deaths in Scotland had also surged 23 per cent year-on-year in 2016, to 867.

Opioids such as heroin were a factor in 88 per cent of the deaths.

Mr Horne said: “From our own perspective, we would like to see the return across Scotland of static needle exchanges.

“They’ve been largely taken up by pharmacy but in the past, in the 1990s, there were a lot of static needle exchanges.

“If someone goes into a chemist they give ten needles in and get 10 needles back, but there’s no interaction. We see static needle exchanges as an optimum place for engaging people about treatment, but they’ve largely disappeared across the country – they’re few and far between.

“We think they would be very useful.”

The overdose statistics emerged following a Parliamentary Question by shadow health secretary Miles Briggs.

The Scottish Conservatives have urged the Scottish Government to get tougher on dealers and suppliers, and find alternatives to methadone for those addicts who want to give up drugs completely.

Mr Briggs said: “We already knew Scotland was experiencing a drugs deaths rate higher than anywhere else.

“Now we can see the extent of those overdosing on dangerous substances too.

“We need a new strategy urgently to help these vulnerable people beat this lethal habit for good.”

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “Scotland was the first country in the world to introduce a national naloxone programme to reduce the effects of overdoses and drug use among the general population continues to fall, while drug taking levels among young people remain low.

“Evidence supports that methadone remain a potential component of the treatment for opiate dependency and is would be just one part of a package of care, treatment and recovery that can be offered to individuals to help them recover from drug addiction.”