Drug treatment services in Dundee are failing older users who overdose after spending years trapped in treatment, it has been claimed.
Official figures revealed 66 people died at the hands of illicit substances in Dundee last year – an all-time high and the worst rate per head in Scotland.
The rise, which is the fifth consecutive rise year-on-year, has prompted calls from all corners for a rethink of the UK’s drug strategy.
However, those on the frontline say such efforts, while promising for the future, will not help those in crisis now.
The figures show those aged 35-44 – often known as the “Trainspotting generation” – are the most likely to be killed.
Long-term average (LTA) rates for Dundee show that there were 0.31 deaths for every 1,000 people – more than tripling to 1.13 per 1,000 among 35-44s.
Drug users aged 45-54 are also more likely to die of an overdose than those aged 25-34.
Sharon Brand, of support group Recovery Dundee, says many older people are effectively abandoned on to opiate replacement therapies (ORT) such as methadone by services that aren’t resourced enough to help them recover completely.
She said: “Talking about decriminalisation down the line is all well and good but are we going to let these other people die in the meantime?
“We in the community have had to find solutions ourselves because the services that are there are not working.
“Why are services doing this? People are supposed to be getting better with their help. The people that are dying are the ones already getting treatment.”
David Liddell, CEO of Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “We need to see improvements in access to ORT. In some areas we seeing waits of six months to get on ORT.”
The Tele recently spoke to one such user, “Danny”, about his long wait to be signed on to an opiate replacement scheme in Dundee.
He said in June: “They’re telling you to wait for weeks and in that time people are either ending up in prison after stealing to get the cash for heroin, or dying.”
Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership says it understands the challenges in services and is working to address them.
NHS Tayside has also vowed to do more to fight the scourge.
Public health expert Dr Emma Fletcher said: “This is a priority area for all agencies to tackle and the recognition that this should be considered a public health emergency and supported accordingly is welcome.”
However, the city is also continuing to contend with the challenge of “street vallies” – black market diazepam tablets which can be lethally strong.
The pills flooded the market after diazepam use in the NHS was cut back due to concerns over its addictiveness.
They are now so prevalent that they have their own category in the official figures – and ‘street’ pills have been linked to more than two thirds of Dundee’s 2018 drug deaths.
Dave Barrie, service manager at Addaction Dundee, says they remain a pressing issue.
He said: “About four or five years ago there was a lot more substitute prescribing of diazepam but that has been decreasing massively.
“Since then we have seen a massive increase in drug-related deaths. That needs to be looked at urgently.
“Services need to be looking at what we’re doing – how we can work together, how quickly people are going into the right treatment. The report from the Dundee Drug Commission is going to be a really accurate picture of services in Dundee, with clear recommendations.
“But what we also need is action now – things need to be changing now.”