Nicola Sturgeon admits she has not done enough to tackle Scotland’s drug-death shame.
The comment follows a furious reaction to the First Minister’s recent comment that the SNP Government took its “eye off the ball” while record numbers of users died.
Ms Sturgeon made the comment in the second televised Holyrood election debate earlier this month.
The words were quickly turned against her by opponents and campaigners angry at Scotland’s dreadful record.
In an exclusive interview, she told us the phrase should not be taken to mean the government “didn’t bother” to address the clear problem.
‘Drugs death capital’
The most recent official figures show Scotland’s death toll hit another record high at more than 1,200 in 2019. The death rate in Scotland is three times worse than the UK as a whole, and it is most acute in Dundee.
The failure cost SNP minister Joe FitzPatrick his government position. The Dundee West politician had been under serious pressure and faced a barrage of resignation calls as the crisis worsened.
The scandal was raised in the TV election debate as opponents criticised the SNP record.
Ms Sturgeon, reflecting on the backlash, said: “When the adrenaline is flowing and you’ve literally got a few seconds to say something, you often say it in a way you wouldn’t choose to if you had longer to think about it.
“It’s not really what I meant because that does suggest we didn’t bother or didn’t care. That’s not true.
“We have tried to do things to turn around the unacceptable situation with drugs deaths but I can’t look at the figures and conclude that what we’ve been trying to do has worked or has been effective or has been enough.”
Asked what the government did wrong, Ms Sturgeon said: “I just don’t think we’ve done enough right, perhaps, than doing it wrong.”
A new minister, Angela Constance, was appointed and more money is being spent to tackle the problem.
Rehabilitation and after-care will be better supported, the SNP leader said.
“The depth of determination to turn this around is very real,” Ms Sturgeon added.
“Nothing I say, whether it’s in the heat of debate or otherwise, should leave anyone in any doubt that there is a real seriousness of purpose around this.
“I think it is a source of shame that we have so many lives lost to drugs in this country.”