A commission brought together to examine ways of tackling Dundee’s drugs death crisis has concluded that the situation remains challenging across the city.
The Dundee Drugs Commission’s latest review of its report, first published in 2019 amid shameful levels of substance abuse, says the scale of the problem is greater than was first anticipated, despite positive moves made to date to help those with a drug addiction.
Experts on the working group, from public health and addiction workers through to council representatives, have issued a range of fresh recommendations to encourage action that, to date, has not gone “far enough, deep enough or fast enough”.
These include a proposal to close the city’s controversial Constitution House, which has served as a central access point for people with drug problems for years.
The commission recommends sending the staff out across the city in order to help people in their own communities instead – and to make this happen within the next year.
It is among 12 new recommendations issued to the Dundee Partnership – the city’s joint working group of local bodies like the council, police and NHS as well as academic institutions and business and charity representatives.
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Dr Robert Peat, chair of the Dundee Drugs Commission said: “We found that the Partnership has made genuine and extensive efforts to address the drugs challenge in Dundee.
“However, we believe that the scale of the challenge has been greater than the Partnership anticipated.
“There is obviously a great deal more to do and we have concluded that the Partnership needs help to tackle this problem.
“We remain of the view that with determination, clear communications, and a willingness to work as a true partnership, then Dundee can effectively address the public health crisis of drug deaths.”
Greg Colgan, chief executive of Dundee City Council, insists that the local authority and other public bodies are “not complacent” about addressing Dundee’s spiraling drug problem.
The city has the highest long-term death rate per head of any council area in Scotland – an average of 43.1 per 100,000 people between 2016 and 2020, or an average of 63 deaths each year.
Mr Colgan said: “Local agencies leading efforts to cut the number of drug deaths are facing a number of pressures and we will have to consider prioritisation across number of service areas for people throughout Dundee.”
The Dundee Drugs Commission was established in response to the city’s sky-high death rates from substance use, one of the highest in the world and the highest in Europe.
It saw experts speak to more than 1,000 people including drug users, their families, health and social workers and academics to come up with a series of recommendations on how to stop the deaths.
Recommendations in the 2019 report included giving better support to drug users leaving hospital after overdosing, merging drug support with mental health treatment and working across society to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction.
In response, Dundee city bosses have rolled out new services that aim to meet each of the Commission’s suggestions, such as a “non fatal overdose response team” and the roll-out of easy access to anti-overdose drug naloxone.
Some of the Commission’s conclusions have also bled into thinking across wider Scotland. The Scottish Government has recently unveiled a publicity campaign urging people to treat drug addiction as an illness.
And while drug deaths fell by a fifth in the city in 2020, from 72 to 57, it remains to be seen whether the drop is due to an improvement in services or the coronavirus pandemic affecting the availability of drugs.
Simon Little, independent chair of the Dundee Alcohol and Drugs Partnership, said: “Although there has been important progress, enormous challenges remain.
“We must continue to drive down drug deaths, eradicate stigma and ensure that high quality person-centered services that treat everyone with dignity and respect are the norm.”
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