The First Minister is facing calls to take charge of a crisis response to the latest record toll of drug deaths in Scotland.
Holyrood opposition leaders want to hear directly from Nicola Sturgeon today after Holyrood chiefs arranged an emergency parliamentary statement.
The SNP Government put forward drugs minister Angela Constance, who was put in charge of policy in December.
The short-notice session, which gives MSPs an opportunity to question the government, follows last week’s shocking drug-death annual report.
Scotland recorded 1,339 deaths in 2020, up from 1,264, which is an increase of 5.9%.
It makes Scotland the worst hit country in Europe.
The scandal led to claims the problem is spiralling out of control, with the new minister and Ms Sturgeon facing a major backlash at the failure to turn the scandal around.
Among the grim findings, the National Records of Scotland also revealed:
- Dangerous “street-benzos” were present in more than 72% of recorded drug deaths.
- People in deprived areas are 18 times more likely to die.
- Glasgow overtook Dundee as the worst affected part of Scotland.
Today is the first opportunity for Holyrood to tackle the findings, which were published on Friday last week.
When the figures came out, Ms Constance said they were “heart breaking” and promised £100 million to improve rehab as part of a wider £250 million spending plan.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said Ms Sturgeon should “answer directly” in parliament.
“When a crisis reaches the level of being Scotland’s shame, hiding is not an option,” he said.
“Nicola Sturgeon has been absent from the government’s response so far, despite the drug death crisis spiralling entirely during her time as First Minister.”
Mr Ross added: “Left to carry the can, Angela Constance has dodged scrutiny, claiming she ‘can’t speak about past mistakes’.
“In the face of deaths peaking to a shocking new rate that is nearly four times worse than anywhere else in Europe, the public expects action, not more of the same weak responses and warm words.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the First Minister should be making the statement.
“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,” he said.
“And if she fails to make progress she should make way for someone who will.”
‘We owe this to everyone’
Alex Cole Hamilton, standing for the job of Scottish Lib Dem leader, set out four demands.
He wants “safe” consumption spaces, wraparound services for users, a focus on education instead of prison and better care support for those at risk.
He condemned previous cuts and said: “We need a new era of drug policy radicalism to finally turn the corner in the fight to save lives and ensure that people are helped and treated with compassion. We owe this to everyone who is currently struggling, to those who didn’t make it and to their families.”
On Friday, Ms Constance responded: “We are working hard to get more people into the treatment that works for them as quickly as possible. Without treatment, there is little hope of recovery so we are funding as many community and third sector initiatives as we can so that individuals have the widest possible choice and can opt for the support which suits them and their family.
“Of the £250 million announced over the next five years, £100 million will go on improving the provision of residential rehabilitation and I will update Parliament on progress in this area after the summer recess.
“As I have said before, I am determined that every penny of this additional funding will make a difference to all those affected by drug use in Scotland.”