There must be a focus on humanising drug users in a bid to tackle the city’s addiction issues, according to one of the area’s top police officers.
Chief Inspector Mike Whitford said that services need to work together and adopt a “holistic” approach if they want to win the war on drugs.
In July, it emerged that Dundee had recorded the highest number of annual drug deaths on record, with 66 people dying of substance abuse in the last year.
Weeks later, the Dundee Drugs Commission – set up in 2018 to examine drug deaths in the city and look at ways to reduce the number of fatalities – released an 80-page report demanding a radical culture change within treatment services and condemning the current support as “not fit for purpose”.
In an exclusive interview with the Tele, Ch Insp Whitford said: “Dundee, while facing a significant challenge, has actually been forward-thinking in many ways. We’ve made it very public – it’s not hidden – and I think that what’s going to come out of the city is probably going to be some of the best practice out there.
“The politics that have grown up around drug deaths has created a political will to challenge some of the human sides.”
For Ch Insp Whitford, the only way progress can be made is by working in partnership with a number of organisations and focusing on all the human aspects surrounding a drug user.
He also believes legislation must change, which would in turn allow services to take a more “proactive approach” in helping people living with addiction.
Ch Insp Whitford said: “There are a number of pressures on individuals which can result in them turning to drugs, and simply locking up drug users is far too simplistic an approach for a modern partnership to take forward.
“This is a criminal and legal issue, but also a public health one.
“The chronic issues that the people of Tayside are experiencing need to be approached in a much more holistic way.
“Society is often very critical of people suffering from drug addiction as a result of the blighting effects it can have on those around them.
“For this reason there is a stigma in being a drug user and also the families of drug users. This inhibits those who desperately need help from seeking it out, admitting to their problems and finding a way to recover.
“The Dundee Drugs Commission identified that services can end up unconsciously taking a punitive approach to people who fail to conform to the requirements of services.
“For example, many people don’t have a watch, but are expected to make appointments; they have no means of transport or immediate access to money, yet at times are expected to travel to appointments, with non-attendance leading to sanctions, making it even harder to access the service.
“In turn, public services can get rather mechanical about how they deliver their services, losing sight of the complexity of an individual’s needs that frequently require multiple agencies to be coordinated around them, rather than one service at a time.”
One event which is a key component in targeting the use of drugs in the area is the Dundee Hope Festival, a one-day event taking place on October 19 organised by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs and a number of local partner agencies focusing on challenging the stigma associated with drug and alcohol addiction.
Ch Insp Whitford said: “The festival is a manifestation of part of the work that’s been going on.
“Drug and alcohol addiction has a blighting effect on communities, families, individuals and their children across Scotland and the stigma attached to such addictions often leads to those suffering to be isolated from the very support they desperately need.
“It is incumbent on all of us to work to challenge that isolating stigma and Police Scotland is working with all our partners in Dundee to ensure our services are centred on people and delivered with respect and humanity at their core.
“Police Scotland is determined to support the Dundee Hope Festival and officers will be present to meet the public and answer questions about how the city and its services are working to make things better for those affected.
“We don’t want to lose sight of the humanity of it. Every single drug user and the members of their family deserve to be looked at in a humane, non-judgemental way.
“The public seeing someone heavily under the influence of drugs or alcohol seems to have almost become the norm now in some areas of the city. Members of the public will step over them.
“We all need to recognise that addiction is a very human experience and once addicted, it is incredibly difficult to fight that addiction alone, particularly when the driving factors that led to their addiction are still there, such as inequality, poverty, opportunity, mental health, homelessness etc. and every waking moment is about feeding their addiction.
“Every one of them is a son, daughter, mother or father etc., and the question I have for all of us is what would we want if this was a member of our family, what level of services would I expect.”