FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has spoken out after figures revealed 2021 was the second worst on record for drugs deaths in Scotland.

Data published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) on Thursday showed that 1330 people died last year from misuse of drugs.

This was down by nine (around 0.7%) on the record high of 1339, set during the pandemic year of 2020.

However, while drugs deaths among men declined by 40 to 933, in 2021 the number of women dying from drugs-related causes rose by 31 to 397.

Responding to the figures, the First Minister wrote on Twitter: “Every death to drugs is the loss of an individual who was loved and valued. So while it is welcome that deaths in 2021 were slightly down on year before – and that year on year increase since 2013 has halted – we know there is much more to do to address this unacceptable crisis.”

The numbers of Scots losing their lives to drugs had risen every year for seven years before the slight dip recorded in 2021.

Julie Ramsay, vital events statistician at the NRS, said that the number of deaths had been increasing “substantially over the past few decades”, adding: “There were more than five times as many deaths in 2021 compared with 1996.”

Dr Susanna Galea-Singer, the co-chair of the Addictions Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said the slight fall in total deaths was "encouraging", but warned against growing complacent.

She went on: “While we agreed with the Drug Death Taskforce’s view that a ‘no wrong door’ approach is required – what we really need now is a bold and consistent plan – one which does not allow this crisis to continue. 

“The Scottish Government must look at realistic and carefully considered drug addiction services for the health, social care and third sector. These services need to be sustainable over time.

“Other socio-economic issues such as deprivation also need to be addressed – as we know there are close links between poverty and drug misuse."

The National: Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross reacts to the First Minister's statement to MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, on her plans to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence before the end of 2023. Picture date: Tuesday June 28,

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross (above) said that “much-needed action” had to be taken immediately.

He said: “The enormity of this national emergency is laid bare in this heart-breaking toll of fatalities.

“These figures are a badge of shame for Nicola Sturgeon, who has presided over a huge escalation in Scotland’s drug-deaths epidemic during her time in office.

“But, amid the statistics, we must never forget that every individual who has died has left behind grieving friends and families.

“Scotland’s drug-deaths rate is not merely worse than that of any other European nation, it’s so off-the-scale bad, so uniquely awful, that the SNP Government have to accept their current approach isn’t working.”

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney, who has worked with campaigner Peter Krykant in a mobile Overdose Prevention Centre, said that while "welcome", the drop in drugs deaths was "not good enough".

He went on: “The time for talking has long passed. The solutions are no secret. We need action, and we need a coherent plan to address this crisis. It's not good enough to write academic reports with recommendations that are never implemented - that helps no-one and it certainly doesn't stop those at risk of dying an entirely preventable death.

"As a bare minimum, the Scottish Government should urgently announce a rollout of Overdose Prevention Centres to reach the most vulnerable. I have a ready made bill proposal that can be adopted by government instantly and implemented within a matter of months if they have the will to do so.

"It's also abundantly clear that the Drug Death Taskforce has failed. We were told to judge it after three years and drug deaths are still astronomically high ... If we are to get a grip of this, we need an independent oversight body that will scrutinise without fear or favour."

READ MORE: Bill gets ball rolling to tackle drug death crisis ... but will it be enough?

Scottish Green health spokesperson Gillian Mackay said the figures revealed a "public health emergency".

The MSP said: “Every single one of these deaths is a preventable tragedy. The figures published today remind us of the devastating impact addiction has on communities across Scotland.

"While it is welcome to see a slight reduction in the overall deaths recorded, these figures still represent the second highest number of annual drug deaths on record and show that much more work is required to address this public health emergency.

"The war on drugs approach, pursued for decades in this country, has evidently failed. It is long past time that we adopted an approach which focuses on restoring people’s dignity and treating their addiction, rather than criminalising them.”