NICOLA Sturgeon has pledged an extra £250 million over the next five years to help tackle the "national disgrace" of drug-related deaths.

The First Minister said £50m a year will be allocated over the coming parliamentary term as part of a "national mission" to address the scandal. 

It follows statistics showing there were 1,264 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2019, the highest rate in Europe.

READ MORE: Drug Deaths: Rate in Scotland the highest in the EU

Ms Sturgeon said this was "equivalent to three people losing their lives each and every day".

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick lost his job in the aftermath of the damning figures, with Angela Constance appointed as a dedicated minister for drugs policy.

Speaking in Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: "The fact is all of these people, and those who died in years gone by, were in some way failed by us.

"Responsibility for that rests, first and foremost, with government."

She added: “Anyone who ends up losing their life as a result of drug addiction, is not just failed at the time of their death – in most cases, they will have been failed repeatedly throughout their whole life.

“I believe that if we have the will, we can and we will find the ways to stop this happening.

“Doing so requires a national mission to end what is currently a national disgrace.

“It is a reasonable criticism to say that this government should have done more earlier, and I accept that.

“But I am determined that we will provide this national mission with the leadership, focus, and resources that it needs.”

The First Minister said an extra £5m will be provided until the end of March so that work can get underway immediately. 

She outlined a number of areas where improvements will be made. 

These include substantially increasing the number of residential rehabilitation beds across the country. 

Ms Sturgeon said £20m a year will go towards this over the next parliamentary term.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon moves to get a grip of drugs deaths crisis

Elsewhere, she said the Government will work to reduce stigma and increase the number of people seeking treatment for addiction. 

Funding will be allocated to alcohol and drug partnerships, third sector and grassroots organisations to improve work in communities.

And the distribution of naloxone – used in opioid overdoses – will be widened.

Ms Sturgeon also said there is "strong evidence from other countries" that safe consumption rooms, which allow users to take drugs under supervision, help prevent fatal overdoses. 

She added: "That is why we are so keen to see that model formally used here."

However drugs legislation is reserved to Westminster.

Ms Sturgeon said ministers are "continuing to explore how we overcome the legal barriers that currently restrict us in this respect".

She said heroin-assisted treatment, currently being piloted in Glasgow, will be rolled out elsewhere. 

Opposition politicians welcomed the funding, but argued more should have been done earlier.

Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: "Drug deaths have been a growing national tragedy for more than a decade. But in the last few years, they have become Scotland’s worst shame.

"More should have been done much earlier. Families have been failed. Entire communities have been let down and left broken.

"Today’s statement doesn’t change that. It won’t mend all those broken families - but it is a start.

"We can wholeheartedly welcome the news that the Government has finally listened to Scottish Conservative calls for £20m to restore residential rehabilitation places back to their previous levels.

"We still need to know that rehab bed places will at least be restored to previous levels, and it’s essential that abstinence-based recovery programmes are also given their place.

"This funding is long overdue but it will be absolutely vital in saving lives and getting to grips with this crisis.”

Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie said: "It is tragic that it has come to this, and I welcome [Ms Sturgeon's] acknowledgement that more needed to be done beforehand.

“As Health Secretary she presided over the Road to Recovery strategy which the Scottish Drugs Forum described as a significant contributory factor to our present situation.

"And when the Scottish Government cut the budgets of alcohol and drugs partnerships they were warned that it would lead to more deaths: now there are 1200 deaths in a single year."