JOE FitzPatrick has resigned as Public Health Minister after facing mounting pressure over drugs deaths failings.

He was facing a motion of no confidence from opposition MSPs but has "agreed that I should leave government".

Angela Constance has been appointed as a dedicated minister for drugs policy, while a new public health minister will be nominated on Monday.

Mr FitzPatrick said: “It has been the privilege of my life to serve in the Scottish Government and, during that time, the most heart-breaking and difficult problems I have faced as Public Health Minister is the harms and deaths caused by drug use.

“I have worked with families who have felt the burden and weight of grief from drug use. I want to thank them for their candour and the amazing efforts they make to try and make our country better and safer for all.

“As the minister responsible for this area I, ultimately, take my responsibility. It is clear that my presence as a minister will become a distraction, when we should be focused on achieving the change we need to save lives.

“There is nothing I can express that will ease the loss that so many families have felt due to a death from drugs use. I can only say how sorry I am for their loss, and that hearing the experiences of the families and the recovery communities will never leave me.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I thank Joe for his work as a minister and the service he has given to Government over the last eight years, firstly as Minister for Parliamentary Business and then as Minister for Public Health.

“While the time has now come to make a change in the public health brief, no one should doubt Joe’s hard work, dedication and sincerity. He will continue to champion the interests of his constituents at Holyrood, and I wish him well in the future.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: "After 13 years of failure, no-one can have any confidence in Nicola Sturgeon's disastrous drugs strategy and the resignation of her public health minister changes nothing.

“If this was about the shocking number of drug related deaths this year, he would have gone on the day the numbers were released.  

“The families of the 1,264 people who lost their lives in the last year to drugs will take little comfort in his resignation.

“They are more interested in how we have reached this shameful position after more than 13 years of the SNP being in power, with Nicola Sturgeon in charge of health for much of that."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said "change is needed and fast".

He added: "This was inevitable but it doesn't ease the pressure on the Scottish Government to make up for the terrible failures over the last thirteen years on drugs policy.

Scotish Labour health spokesperson, Monica Lennon, had started the formal process in calling for Mr FitzPatrick to leave his job by proposing a motion of no confidence in him at Holyrood.

She said: "It is right that Joe FitzPatrick has resigned.

“Having been neglected for too long, Scotland’s drug deaths emergency must now be given the full attention of the Scottish Government.

“Urgent funding is needed to boost access to treatment and residential rehab. The Scottish Government must get behind safe consumption facilities, like the voluntary service being run in Glasgow."

Ms Lennon added: “We welcome Angela Constance to her role and Scottish Labour will work with all political parties to prevent drug deaths.

“This must be a turning point. The SNP has failed badly and Joe Fitzpatrick doesn’t bear that responsibility alone.

“Our Parliament can lead the world on progressive public health policies when we put our minds to it.”

Ms Constance will now lead the Scottish Government's work on tackling drugs harm as well as being tasked with reducing the shocking number of drugs deaths in Scotland.

She will report directly to the First Minister and was been appointed until May's Holyrood election, subject to approval by MSPs.

Before entering elected politics, Ms Constance served as a social worker, including working with people with a history of drug misuse and families living with the consequences of addiction.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Scotland’s record on drug deaths is simply not good enough and as First Minister I know we have much more to do.

“As a first step I have decided to appoint a dedicated minister, working directly alongside me, whose job it will be to work across government to improve outcomes for people whose lives are affected by drugs.

“We must not accept a situation in which people who use drugs are allowed to fall through the cracks, with so many dying premature and avoidable deaths as a result. Behind the statistics are real people whose lives matter, and I am absolutely determined that we take actions to fix this.”

Ms Constance said: “It is a privilege to be asked to work with the First Minister to address this challenge.

“I intend to get straight down to business, meeting with people who are at risk of dying from drugs, learning from the families of those we have lost and working with those in our communities and public health teams who are providing such valuable support.

“Government can and will do more and I am determined to use the short time before the election to work with the Drug Death Taskforce on the actions necessary to reduce Scotland’s drug deaths and better support those living with addiction.”