NICOLA Sturgeon has said she will wonder about the knock-on effects of the Covid lockdown for the rest of her life after rises in drug deaths and online child abuse during the pandemic.

Police Scotland reported a “significant increase” in suspected overdoses in May and June, with drug users increasingly turning to the ‘dark web’ for supplies during the pandemic.

Final figures are awaiting toxicology tests, which are currently subject to a backlog. 

However the provisional figures showed “a significant increase was identified during May 2020 - regionally this increase was most notable in the east. 

“Suspected drug-related deaths during June 2020 are also significantly higher than those recorded in June 2019.

"Changes in drug use and behaviour have been noted, such as localised use of uncommon commodities, potentially sourced via the dark web.

"This may be evidence of drug substitution due to disruption of drugs markets, or suppliers adapting to lockdown restrictions."

There were 1,187 drug-related deaths across Scotland in 2018.

Police Scotland also recorded a higher number of online child sexual abuse crimes in June than in any other month on record as children spent more time online. 

A similar rise was seen in March when the tough lockdown was imposed.

There were 530 online child abuse crimes recorded between April and June, with 226 in June alone, according to the latest quarterly update to the Scottish Police Authority. 

This was an increase of 21 per cent against the same period last year and 34% higher than the five-year average.

The quarterly update stated: "An increase in these types of crimes was anticipated during the lockdown period as perpetrators of these crimes would have more time to have an online presence, as would potential victims."

Police Scotland launched the Get Help or Get Caught campaign directly targeting sexual predators who abuse children online in April.

Internet grooming declined to an average level that month but increased again in June.

Asked at the daily briefing whether she thought these trade-offs were the right ones and whether she would make them again in another lockdown, Ms Sturgeon said: “I will for the rest of my life ask myself questions like that.

“All I can say is we, the Scottish Government and I as the First Minister, have acted in a way every single day to try to make the right balances to try to keep people as safe as possible. 

“If we hadn’t done some of these things, the virus would have taken an even greater toll than it has, and it has taken as considerable toll.

“But we always knew and said all along that lockdown would have its own impacts and consequences.

“I’m far from the only leader of governments the world over that’s to make these invidious decisions over the last few months."

She went on: “I will probably spend the rest of my life wondering whether if I could have done some things differently, but I tried to do the best.

“On drugs deaths, for example, we said all along that health boards should continue with drug treatment because of the importance of that.

“So right throughout the pandemic, the drugs force taskforce has continued to meet. 

“The police have made sure there’s been continued focus on domestic violence and child abuse.

“This has been a horrendous period that we have lived through, where we have been balancing significant harms and trying to reduce the harm overall.

“All we’re trying to do is find the lowest overall balance of harm that’s been done to the population.

“That’s why I’m so determined that we do everything we can to keep this virus under control because I don't want us to go back to having to make these kind of choices.”