DRUG deaths in Inverclyde remain among the highest in the country after 33 people died in the district for the second year in a row.

Only Dundee and Glasgow have higher rates of deaths per 100,000 of the population.

Like elsewhere in Scotland, a fatal mix of dangerous street drugs like etizolam mixed with heroin and cocaine resulted in many overdoses.

The new drugs minister Angela Constance is now set to visit Inverclyde as the local MSP demands extra help for the area.

Meanwhile Inverclyde health and social care partnership is to use new government funding to increase residential rehabilitation places, as well as intervening when people are in police custody, and making naloxone - which rapidly reverses an opioid overdose - more widely available.

MSP Stuart McMillan said: "Once again, the latest drug deaths figures are heartbreaking and my thoughts are with everyone who has lost a loved one through drug use.

“I want to see more specific action taken in Inverclyde, as our area is consistently experiencing high levels of drug-related deaths.

“I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government have announced a national mission on the crisis and that £250m will be spent on addressing this emergency over the next five years, but we need a holistic approach if we’re to save lives in the long-term.

"That involves governments at all levels working together and alongside healthcare services and third sector organisations, so that the causes of drug-use are also addressed.

“The drugs minister recently accepted my invite to Inverclyde to meet with Moving On Inverclyde to learn more about local addiction services.

“Ms Constance has been clear from the start that any new policy actions will be undertaken with the support of those affected by addiction and also organisations helping people with addiction.”

The death rate per 100k of the population in Inverclyde is 34, with only Glasgow at 38 and Dundee at 39 higher.

All but two of the 33 local deaths were overdoses and almost all involved heroin or another opiate, street drugs like etizolam, and cocaine.

A total of 29 deaths had an opiate implicated, tests on 25 people showed up a benzodiazepine and 23 had cocaine in their system.

The average age of those who died from drug use in Inverclyde is 36, with 28 men dying and five women.

Most deaths occur in the 35-44 age bracket.

The council's health and social care convenor Robert Moran said: "“We need to remember that behind every drug-related death is a person and their family and friends who are all part of a wider community.

“Preventing drug-related deaths is a top priority in Inverclyde led by the Inverclyde Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP), which brings together the council, HSCP and a variety of public, private and third sector partners, all with the common goal of taking actions to prevent such unnecessary tragedy within our community.

“These actions are wide-ranging, including attempts to address poverty and stigma as well as offering support to people who are experiencing severe and multiple disadvantages such as homelessness, mental health and involvement in the justice system.

“We regularly review the actions we are taking and also apply learning from the reviews of each drug death to find out where improvements can be made to prevent any more unnecessary deaths in our communities.

"“It will unfortunately take time to turn the tide on this national epidemic and to embed new, local initiatives but we are working hard behind the scenes to reduce the number of drug-related deaths in our community through prevention and education, treatment and care, and recovery.”