THE number of drug-related deaths in Scotland is expected to have risen further during the pandemic, it has been reported. 

A record 1,264 Scots died of drug misuse in 2019, the worst rate in Europe and more than three times the rate for England and Wales.

The Sunday Times reported figures this week are expected to show a further rise in deaths, including an increase in overdoses among women and young people. 

It is also expected that cheap benzodiazepines, or benzos, will continue to be implicated in a high number of deaths.

However, campaigners have welcomed plans for "inpatient stabilisation units" to combat polydrug use and prioritise treatment for people using benzos.

Professor Catriona Matheson, chair of the Scottish Government's Drug Deaths Taskforce, told The Sunday Times: "A continued feature anticipated in our drug death statistics is the role of benzodiazepines.

"Seventy per cent of all drug deaths involved a benzodiazepine in 2019, and this trend is anticipated to continue in 2020.

"Street benzos are illicit, unregulated copies with terrifying variances in potency.

"These are manufactured in the UK from imported raw materials in makeshift production units, so the supply during Covid was able to continue and may even have increased."

Nicola Sturgeon previously admitted she and her government "took our eye off the ball" on drug deaths.

Earlier this year, she said: "I think we took our eye off the ball on drug deaths and I've said as much to the Scottish Parliament.

"I set out at the start of this year a £250 million investment programme to build up rehabilitation services, including residential rehabilitation, to make sure we give more support to community services, to make sure we provide faster access to treatment. We have a task force working on all that."

She added: "I take the view that when politicians get things wrong, and we all get things wrong - it's really important to face up to that.

"That's what I've done on drugs deaths. I've appointed a minister to lead forward that work and we are determined to turn that around."