SCOTTISH ministers have been accused of failing in their national mission to tackle the country’s drug deaths crisis after 1,330 people lost their lives in 2021.

New statistics published by the National Records of Scotland found that the annual tally for drugs-related deaths has essentially stood still form the previous year, dropping from 1,339 in 2020 to 1,330 in 2021.

SNP Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance has made clear the situation remains “unacceptable”.

The statistics mark the first year since 2013 in which drug misuse deaths have not increased, but 2021 is the second highest annual total on record, only topped by 2020.

Of those who died from the misuse of drugs, 65 per cent were aged between 35 and 54 years old and more than two thirds (70%) were men.

Dundee had the highest age-standardised drug misuse death rate of all local authority areas with 45.2 per 100,000 population for the five-year period of 2017 to 2021, followed by Glasgow (44.4) and Inverclyde (35.7).

Julie Ramsay, vital events statistician at NRS, said: “Drug misuse deaths have increased substantially over the past few decades – there were more than five times as many deaths in 2021 compared with 1996. 2021 is the first year since 2013 that drug misuse deaths have not increased.

“In 2021, after adjusting for age, people in the most deprived areas were more than 15 times as likely to have a drug misuse death as those in the least deprived areas.

This ratio has widened over the past two decades.”

Ms Constance has admitted "Scotland suffers a terrible toll from drug deaths".

She added: “These latest statistics provide yet more heart-breaking reading, and the situation remains unacceptable.

"While there is so much more work to do, every life saved means one less family grieving and I am determined we can use this halt in the upward trend of recent years as a platform for real change.

“My focus now is on taking action and delivering new investment to improve services and get more people into the treatment which works for them.

"I am concerned about the rise in deaths among women and will look to expand on current steps we are taking including the provision of two Mother and Child Residential Recovery Houses which will enable women to receive support while staying with their children."

Ms Constance said: “Despite regional differences, we are focused on a national mission and I’ll continue to use all the powers at my disposal, including holding local leaders to account in implementing the MAT standards, to drive improvements across Scotland.

“We are already implementing many of the recommendations from The drug deaths askforce, which issued its final recommendations last week, and I will report back on further actions to Parliament.

“In the first year of the National Mission we built the foundations for change. Now, with the backing of £250 million over the course of this parliament, we will deliver on those foundations and our new oversight group will provide scrutiny, challenge and expert advice on the national mission as we continue our efforts to improve and save lives.”

In 93% of all drug misuse deaths, more than one drug was found to be present in the body, and the type of drugs that are implicated in deaths has been changing.

In 2015 there were 191 deaths involving benzodiazepines, last year there were 918, near five times as many. This increase has mostly been driven by street benzodiazepines rather than those which are prescribed.

Of all drug misuse deaths in 2021, 84% involved opiates or opioids such as heroin, morphine and methadone while 69% involved benzodiazepines such as diazepam and etizolam.

In 2020, the most recent year available for the rest of the UK, Scotland’s drug misuse rate was 3.7 times that for the UK as a whole, and higher than that of any European country.

Campaigners have called for more action around treatment to help halt the crisis.

Favor Scotland CEO, Annemarie Ward, said: “These horrendous figures should shame the Scottish Government.

“The response to Scotland’s drug deaths crisis has been abysmal. The government has failed to do what’s necessary and the cost is devastating to our communities. Every year we are left with more lost souls and broken families.”

She added: “Years after the government promised to finally step up and tackle drug deaths, it’s clear that not much has changed. Nicola Sturgeon said she would make it her national mission to save lives - but we’re still losing more than 1000 people a year. The national mission is failing.

“We warned that the government’s actions were not good enough. We said from day one that their MAT Standards didn’t have any teeth and wouldn’t be implemented properly. The drug death taskforce report last week confirmed that is exactly what’s happened. Barely any of the MAT Standards are working.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called for his proposals to give people a right to rehab treatment to be supported by the Scottish Government.

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."

He added: “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.

“It was a shameful admission by Nicola Sturgeon that she took her eye off the ball with drugs deaths. Now she and the SNP need to get behind right to recovery.

“The bill addresses one of the biggest obstacles those with addiction issues face in turning their lives around – namely accessing treatment programmes, including residential rehab.

“If the SNP stop dithering, and support this bill, we can begin to take much-needed action now.”