Nicola Sturgeon has been told she should step down as first minister if she fails to solve Scotland’s drug death crisis.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said it was a “test she must pass”, as opposition parties demanded a “call to action” be made in a ministerial statement on Tuesday.
They piled the pressure on the Scottish Government after new figures confirmed that a record number of people died from substance abuse in Scotland in 2020.
It was revealed on Friday that a total of 1,339 deaths last year were attributed to drugs, up from 1,264, an increase of 5.9% on 2019.
The death rate is some three-and-a-half times that of the UK as a whole, and also higher than any other European country.
The government’s drug policy minister, Angela Constance, said on Friday that the latest figures were “heart-breaking” and promised to spend £100 million on improving residential rehabilitation, as part of a wider £250 million pledged for the crisis.
But Mr Sarwar revealed he had written to Holyrood’s presiding officer, Alison Johnstone, asking for an urgent ministerial statement on drug deaths on Tuesday, when parliament is due to be recalled for an update on the pandemic response.
“On Tuesday, the first minister will update MSPs on one of the public health crises facing Scotland,” he said.
“But last week’s drug death figures show that Covid is not the only health emergency haunting our country.”
Mr Sarwar added: “Apologising or expressing regret just isn’t good enough.
“The first minister should put all her political energy into solving this crisis – after 15 years in government it is a test she must pass.
“And if she fails to make progress she should make way for someone who will.”
The first minister should put all her political energy into solving this crisis – after 15 years in government it is a test she must pass. And if she fails to make progress she should make way for someone who will.”
Annie Wells, Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman, also demanded a parliamentary statement on Tuesday.
“We have called for a ministerial statement because, despite the latest heart-breaking drug statistics, the SNP Government have offered no extra support, no new ideas, no new solutions to this crisis.
“On the day that drug deaths tragically increased for the seventh year in a row, SNP minister Angela Constance joined us at a memorial in Glasgow and somehow thought that people wanted to hear her speak about a Deacon Blue song.
“The SNP are out of touch with the needs of people on the frontline of this crisis. People in our communities don’t need more warm words and empty platitudes, they need action.
“On Tuesday, we hope the government will have the decency to explain why they are stalling on backing our Right to Recovery Bill proposal, which would guarantee everyone who needs addiction treatment can get it.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The minister for drugs policy has already written to the presiding officer making clear that she stands ready to respond to any parliamentary or committee requests in relation to drug deaths.
“The parliamentary agenda is a matter for parliament’s cross-party business bureau to decide and should they agree a time for a statement, the minister will be available to outline what the Scottish Government is doing to tackle this crisis.
We recognise that this is clearly our other public health emergency.”
“The 2020 drug death figures are a stark reminder of the need to do more to save and improve lives.
“We want to see more people able to access the treatment that is right for them at the time they want it. That means on the same day in most cases. And it means a wider range of treatment offers, including residential rehabilitation, must be available everywhere at any given time.”