A tide of more powerful and addictive synthetic opioids hitting Scottish streets is contributing to the recent rise in suspected drug deaths, Humza Yousaf has said.

Drugs policy minister Christina McKelvie said some of these “super-powered” drugs can be 50 times more potent than heroin.

On Tuesday, the latest figures for suspected drug deaths showed a 10% increase in 2023, prompting calls for the Scottish Government to step up action to tackle the problem.

Police management information showed 1,197 people died as a result of suspected drug use last year – up by 105 from 2022.

Last year, Public Health Scotland issued alerts about the presence of nitazenes – highly potent synthetic opioids – in drug deaths.

These drugs had showed up in 25 post-mortem toxicology reports as of late September 2023, indicating they are circulating around drug users north of the border.

On Wednesday, Mr Yousaf and Ms McKelvie visited The Bothy in Craigmillar, Edinburgh – a service which helps people through drug and alcohol recovery.

Speaking to the PA news agency, the First Minister was asked what was driving the recent rise in drug deaths.

He said: “There’s no doubt at all that we’re starting to see on the streets some more addictive substances – more potent substances such synthetic opioids, nitazenes – which are causing real concern.

“So while the Government is continuing to invest – record investment of £112 million to alcohol and drug partnerships this year – we are fighting against a tide of more potent, stronger and more addictive substances, and that’s the challenge.”

He said construction has begun on a safe drug consumption room in Glasgow, which was recently given the green light by the Government’s top law officer.

Residential rehab is “crucially important” to the Government’s plans, the First Minister said, as well as community projects like The Bothy.

Ms McKelvie said the increase in synthetic opioids is being seen in other countries around the world, emerging after a collapse in poppy production.

She told the PA news agency: “Some of the synthetics, because they’re manufactured, they’re produced in a lab, the doses may not be that accurate.

“That’s why we’re seeing super-powered drugs coming on. Which is giving us all cause for concern.”

She said the Government is learning from Ireland’s response to recent incidents involving nitazenes in Cork and Dublin, which saw a number of suspected overdoses.

Further statistics on drug deaths are due to be published by Public Health Scotland later this year.

National Records Scotland also publishes the annual drug death figures in the summer.

Responding to the ministers’ comments, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “In January, I asked the First Minister in Parliament why his Budget delivers a real-terms cut to drugs services, just as this new threat is emerging.

“The synthetic opioid epidemic across North America has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. We do not want that to take hold in Scotland.

“We already have the worst drug deaths in all of Europe. The Government must get on the front foot with public information, detection and treatment to meet this new threat.”