SUSPECTED drugs deaths jumped by a quarter at the end of last year, bringing the total for all of 2022 to more than 1,000, according to new official figures.

Police Scotland management data showed there were 295 suspected drug deaths between October and December, up 60, or 26 per cent, on the previous quarter, July to September. 

It was the highest number of suspected overdoses in a quarter since April to June 2021.

However the total number of suspected drug deaths in 2022 was 1,092, or 203 (16%) lower than in calendar year 2021.

Of these, 70% were male and 30% female. Two-thirds involved people aged 45 to 54. 

The Police Divisions with the greatest number of suspected drug deaths were Greater Glasgow (214), Lanarkshire (118) and Edinburgh City (113).

Asked about Scotland’s drug death rate being more than triple that in England and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon admitted in a party leaders’ debate ahead of the 2021 Holyrood election: “I think we took our eye off the ball on drug deaths.” 

The Scottish Government has been attempting to increase access to rehabilitation and support for problematic drug use, including opening two family rehab centres.

Drug policy minister Angela Constance said: “Firstly, I want to extend my deepest sympathy to all those affected by the loss of a loved one through drugs.

“This latest quarterly report on the number of suspected drug deaths indicates a rise in the final three months of 2022 but suggests that over the course of the year there was a 16% decrease in the number of deaths compared with 2021.

“While I give a cautious welcome to this report, I am aware that it uses management information provided by Police Scotland and is based on attending officers’ observations and initial inquiries at the scene of death.

“The numbers we are seeing are still far too high and we remain focused on our ongoing efforts to get more people into the form of treatment which works best for them.”

She said an additional £250 million was being used to tackle the “public health emergency”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said:  “Every drug death is preventable, so I will never understand why the SNP, by its own admission, took its eye off the ball and chose to ignore the crisis as it unfolded. I find that impossible to accept.  

“As Nicola Sturgeon departs Bute House, she leaves behind an appalling legacy that is this country’s drug deaths crisis. Radical change is needed and it is needed quickly.  

“Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling for the immediate introduction of specialist drug commissions, the decriminalisation of drug misuse and for safe consumption spaces to be available across the country. The Scottish Government owes it to families to do everything in its power to stop people dying.”  

Tory MSP Sue Webber said: “The sharp rise in the number of drug fatalities in the last quarter is both terrifying and completely intolerable.

“Scotland’s drugs-death rate – still by far the worst in Europe – disgraces the nation and is arguably the worst of Nicola Sturgeon’s many failings as First Minister.

“By her own admission, she took her eye off the ball, and these figures show that the SNP are no closer to getting on top of this national emergency. 

“It’s a damning reflection of their priorities that drug deaths have barely featured in the party’s bitter leadership battle.”