Dundee vows to shed 'drugs death capital of Europe' title
A commission set up to save lives lost to substance abuse has published a long-awaited report.
Dundee will shed its title of 'drugs death capital of Europe', the authors of a long-awaited report have vowed.
More than 400 people have died from drugs over the past decade in the city, where the situation has been described as a public health emergency.
A commission set up to reduce the number of lives lost to substance abuse in Dundee published its long-awaited recommendations on Friday.
It said: "Dundee once had the title of 'teenage pregnancy capital of Europe'. No more though. Dundee has successfully changed its approach over the last decade to ensure better outcomes.
"It is time to apply these approaches to the issues of drug use so that Dundee is able to shed the label of 'drug-death capital of Europe' once and for all, and ensure that Dundee is a city where every life and death matters."
Describing the current system as "fractured", it called for a complete overhaul of the treatment and support available to drug users in the city.
And it pointed to the success in other countries of so-called 'fix rooms' where drugs can be taken under the supervision of medical professionals.
MSPs already want to open a drug consumption room in Glasgow, however, it would be illegal under current legislation and the UK Government, which controls drugs laws, has so far refused to give its approval.
Dundee City Council leader John Alexander said the Scottish and UK governments would now be asked to consider changing the law.
The commission also demanded stronger leadership to tackle the crisis in Dundee and insisted the stigma shown to drug users must end.
Words such as 'addict', 'abuse', 'junkie', 'misuse', 'dirty' and 'clean' should no longer be used, it recommended.
The report said: "Choice is important and having the choice of accessing a full menu of services (including community and/or a residential setting) to support recovery should be available to people in Dundee."
It added: "The problems of the past must be left behind, and a culture of openness, honesty, respect and trust must be central."
Specialists heard "heartbreaking" testimony from those whose lives have been blighted by drugs as well as their friends and family.
Robert Peat, chair of the Dundee Drugs Commission, said: "Since starting our work in May 2018, the commission has heard from or spoken to over a thousand people either directly or indirectly affected by the issue of drug use in Dundee.
"We feel that the situation in Dundee can be turned around and that there will be a reduction in the number of drug related deaths in the city."
The report comes just weeks after it was revealed Scotland as a whole has the highest drugs death rate in the EU.
The commission also called for more power over drugs laws to be devolved to the Scottish Government to allow a full review to take place.
It said systems used in countries such as Portugal, where personal drug use is not a criminal offence, should be studied more closely and adopted in Scotland.
Dundee Council leader John Alexander said the report marked a "turning point" for the city.
He said: "Every death is a tragedy that is felt deeply by families and communities across Dundee.
"The situation outlined by recent publication of Scottish drug death statistics has been quite rightly referred to as a public health emergency.
"We cannot go on this way and we have to make radical changes.
"That is why I believe that the report from the Dundee Drugs Commission is a turning point for our city to prevent drugs from taking such a heavy toll in the future."
He added: "We cannot sit by and let more people die. This report is a wake-up call for everyone and shows us a new way forward.
"This will not be an easy task but we are determined to make a difference and will show the leadership across the partnership to achieve better outcomes for people in this city."
The Scottish Government said the report's recommendations would be considered "carefully".
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: "Each and every death from drugs is a tragedy and we are extremely concerned by the continued rise.
"We know there is no simple answer to this challenge and know that more needs to be done to meet the needs of those who are most at risk from substance use.
"This is a public health issue and our national alcohol and drug strategy 'Rights, Respect and Recovery' sets out a number of measures focused on people's needs and their families."