New ‘Drugs Commission’ in Dundee to tackle increase in drug-related deaths

Dundee city council has convened a ‘Drugs Commission’ to tackle the emerging crisis of increasing drug-related deaths in the city, with representatives from the NHS, Police Scotland and local drugs agencies.

Last month 12 suspected drug-related deaths were recorded in Dundee and the city council has convened a Drug Commission to tackle the emerging crisis, which will meet for the first time next month.

Plans for the Drugs Commission were originally penned in December by the Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership (HSPC), which suggested that the new Commission adopts a similar approach to the recent Fairness Commission, which was set up to tackle poverty in the city.

The Health Secretary, Shona Robinson MSP, has offered to lend her support to the expert group.

Speaking as the MSP for Dundee City East in The Times, she said: “This is an incredibly important issue and it is absolutely essential that we do everything we can to tackle and address the matter now.

“Dundee has taken a proactive approach by setting up a Commission, which will provide an extensive review of the size and nature of the drug problem. It will also prepare a report with recommendations on additional priorities for practical and achievable action to tackle and reduce substance misuse and drug deaths in the city.

“As local MSP, I will seek to engage with the Commission throughout this process and have contacted Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership directly to make my interests known.”

Dundee’s drug death rate — 0.23 per 1,000 people — is almost double the national average. It is part of a broader trend, with more than twice as many people dying from drug use in Scotland than a decade ago. A total of 867 people died in 2016, 23 per cent more than the previous year and double the number in 2006.

Jenny Marra, the Labour MSP for northeast Scotland, believes that it is crucial to identify the circumstances behind the “Dundee effect”. She said: “Anyone who lives in Dundee is acutely aware that drugs are a curse on our community. Clearly, there is something going on in the city that is different to what is going on elsewhere.

“The critical and immediate question is for us in Dundee is why is our death rate so much higher than the rest of Scotland, the UK and Europe?

“Once we have answers we can take decisions based on that evidence. It is vital that we have our minds open to every possible solution to bring down the death rate.”

Ken Lynn, Dundee council’s lead spokesman on health and social care, said: “I have lost count of the people who have died. We can’t go on like this. That is why we are going to be launching a Drugs Commission next month.”

Mr Lynn, an SNP councillor, indicated his personal preference was for radical measures. “I wouldn’t rule anything out. I am in favour of safe consumption rooms for drug users and I am also interested in heroin prescription.”