SCOTLAND has recorded more than 700 drug deaths in the first half of this year, new figures reveal.

The statistics, described as "appalling" by Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance, show a slight drop from the same time last year.

Between January and June, 722 suspected deaths were registered, a drop of nine from 2020.

In July, official figures showed confirmed deaths from drugs in 2020 rose to 1339 – another record high.

In an effort to provide more data on the drug deaths crisis, the Scottish Government announced this summer it would release suspected figures each quarter, based on provisional information from Police Scotland.

Constance said: "Once again these figures are appalling. We are taking a vast range of actions to tackle this public health emergency, and we recognise the hard work and challenges ahead.

"More regular reporting of data on drug death trends in Scotland will ensure everyone involved in our national mission remains focussed on the work we must do to get more people into the treatment that is best suited for them as quickly as possible.

"We know that to do this we must create a more integrated, person-centred approach to treatment.

"We are therefore investing £2.3 million over the next three years in Health Improvement Scotland to ensure people are treated not only for their physical health addiction but their mental health too."

But Scottish Tory drug spokeswoman, Sue Webber, claimed the Scottish Government and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon are unaware of what's going on in Scotland.

"These new statistics are heart-breaking. If this appalling trend continues, drug deaths will increase again to another shameful record," she said.

"Scotland's drug deaths crisis keeps getting worse because Nicola Sturgeon is out of touch with what's really happening on our streets and in prisons across the country.

"It's shocking that the SNP Government appears to be clueless that hundreds of taxpayer-funded phones given to prisoners are being used by criminals to deal drugs. Nicola Sturgeon didn't even know it was happening."

Webber was referencing an investigation by ITV News which found phones given to prisoners during the pandemic to increase contact with loved ones and reduce social isolation are being used for drug deals.

Webber added: "Nicola Sturgeon has to start listening to frontline experts and tackle the wider drug death crisis by backing our Right to Recovery Bill, which would finally guarantee that everyone who needs treatment can get it.

"It is on her watch that the drug death crisis has spiralled out of control. She took her eye off the ball and left vulnerable people with nowhere to turn to for help. These new figures show she's still not focused on this crisis."

The Scottish Tories are in the process of introducing a new Bill which would enshrine the rights of addicts to the treatment they request unless specifically rejected by a doctor on medical grounds.

Speaking in front of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, Constance said she was open to backing the Bill, but would wait to see the detail before making a final decision.

"I'm really keen to look at the Bill in detail, obviously it needs to be published before I can give it full consideration," she told Tory health spokeswoman, Annie Wells.

She added: "I have never ruled out the need for further legislation, but I will want to test whether the Bill will do what it claims to do."

Scottish Labour drugs spokesperson Clare Baker said: "We don't need more expressions of regret from ministers - we need action to save lives. The Government must act with the urgency needed."

LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton described the figures as "devastating", adding that each death from drugs is "preventable".