Further calls have been made for Scotland’s public health minister to step down in light of record-high drug deaths.
Statistics from National Records of Scotland revealed there were 1,264 drug-related deaths last year, a 6% rise, with Dundee leading the way per head of population.
It means Scotland’s rate is higher than those reported for all EU countries, and is approximately three-and-a-half times that of the UK as a whole.
During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard called for public health minister Joe FitzPatrick, who represents Dundee City West, to resign or “be fired” in light of the crisis.
Mr Leonard said the minister’s statement on the matter earlier in the week had been “woeful”.
Ms Sturgeon pledged to “work with” Mr FitzPatrick on the issue.
She said: “Hopefully, as we go forward, while there will be legitimate criticism of this government we can also build consensus on the steps that have to be taken to make sure that we do resolve this and sort what is an unacceptable situation.”
The First Minister also admitted more needs to be done to tackle drug deaths in Scotland as her government was accused of cutting rehabilitation services “to the bone”.
She said the figures are “completely unacceptable” as she noted that behind every statistic is a “human being whose life mattered”.
The First Minister said: “I think many of the criticisms are valid and legitimate and we have got much work to do in order to ensure that we sort the problem of people dying avoidably from drugs.
“These are real people whose lives matter and I am absolutely determined that we take the actions to fix this.”
Speaking later, the first minister’s official spokesman said Ms Sturgeon will take a more direct and personal role in Scotland’s drug deaths crisis in the future, including attending the drug deaths taskforce’s next meeting on January 12.
However, he stressed the issue will remain in Mr FitzPatrick’s brief as public health minister, despite the first minister’s involvement. He was unable to say whether Ms Sturgeon intends to come back with more funding and specific action in January, or with further recommendations, similar to those put forward by the taskforce last year.
Asked whether the first minister has confidence that Mr Fitzpatrick is the right person to turn around the crisis, the spokesman replied: “Yes.”
He added: “The first minister was very frank about the fact that this is something that we need to try and fix but it’s a problem that has been many, many years in the making, not just one or two or five or 10 years.
“We’re talking something that has been many years in the making, it’s not just going to be fixed by one person.”
Earlier this week Mr FitzPatrick cited “a range of new and innovative approaches”, including Scotland’s first heroin assisted treatment service in Glasgow.