Mr Pearson called for a clearer drugs policy
The former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency has claimed the number of addicts on methadone is "ridiculous".
Graeme Pearson, former director general of the SCDEA, called for a greater focus on getting people off drugs and more investment in the agency.
"To have more than 20,000 people daily accessing methadone, I think in the 21st century is ridiculous", he said.
Mr Pearson made his comments at the Scottish Labour conference in Aviemore.
He said: "We need to find a way of reducing those numbers. Therefore education, health and all the support services should be working towards bringing people out of the abuse of drugs and that should be the primary objective of those who engage in that effort."
He said Sweden was roughly the same size as Scotland but had half the incidence of drug abuse.
He said action to tackle the drugs problem was vital.
"There's hardly a family in Scotland that's not affected by the abuse of drugs, either personally or through family relatives," he said.
"Any people I have spoken to who are involved in the abuse of drugs don't want to be involved, they want out of it.
"And we need to provide the means to get them out of it. That should be our objective over the next five to 10 years."
Mr Pearson added: "I think it's time for us to have a clear political vision on what we want from our drugs policy.
"I think that the whole issue of harm reduction is important, but the primary outcome of our efforts should be to ensure that people abstain from using drugs and abusing drugs. That should be the clear vision.
Mr Pearson said 20,000 people were currently taking methadone
"The harm reduction approach to drugs I think in the long term is not about reducing numbers, and we need to begin to reduce the numbers who are caught up in the misery of drugs."
Mr Pearson also stressed the importance of investing in the SCDEA.
Speaking in a question and answer session on justice at the conference, he told delegates: "You created the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and fudged it at the last minute.
"The agency needs more room to do its business, it needs to have its independence in terms of how it administers its work, and it needs investment and people to do that work."
Mr Pearson also warned that organised crime in Scotland was "going from strength to strength".