Council leader John Alexander has admitted that Covid-19 will have had an adverse affect on many people trying to access drug addiction services in Dundee.
Mr Alexander spoke to the Tele about the issue of drugs in the city and across the country, following a report by Scotland’s ‘drugs tsar’ Professor Catriona Matheson.
She reported that the use of online deliveries to supply cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy has accelerated during the coronavirus crisis.
She also warned the measures taken to suppress the Covid-19 pandemic could result in rising drugs death rates because of a fall in new referrals for treatment.
And locally, she expressed frustration that coronavirus had struck at a time when Dundee was beginning to make progress in its long-running battle against the drugs culture that has plagued the city, mainly through its founding of the Dundee Drugs Commission.
Mr Alexander said: “It’s an issue that’s very live in my mind; I was the one who started the journey of the Dundee Drugs Commission, and the reason for that was that we tried to challenge the situation in the city.
“The lockdown has meant we weren’t really able to progress with some of the changes or improvements that we wanted to see.
“So, I’m obviously very worried about what the impact is for individuals, for families in the city as well.
“There’s the other challenges about referrals to services, because of the lockdown, because of social distancing – not being able to access people in the same way as they might have been able to previously.
“Unfortunately dealers, and criminals more generally, are always looking at being opportunistic, so I’m not surprised – saddened, of course – but not surprised that they’ve been trying to use technology, trying to use delivery services, almost to kind of supplement a way of delivering drugs to people, whether it be in Dundee or elsewhere.”
Mr Alexander said the council would continue to work with Police Scotland and NHS Tayside to tackle the huge problem in the city.
There were 0.31 deaths per 1,000 of the population in the City of Discovery, ahead of Glasgow (0.30), and Inverclyde (0.25).
The Strathmartine councillor continued: “I know the Tele have covered it previously, but there’s some real success stories of people who have come out the other side of addiction, and have gone on to thrive and give back so much – both to the city and wider.
“So I think we should never lost sight of the fact that the work that is going on, led by the Dundee Drugs Commission, but also by those partners that we’ve mentioned, is about saving lives, it’s about protecting people, it’s trying to get drugs off the street.
“And this situation, with the lockdown, hasn’t helped that. It’s been a necessary measure to combat the virus, but its has, I suppose, had some negative consequences.
“And, we don’t fully know what the impact of those will be, so we’re not seeing drugs deaths going down, in any way, shape or form.”
Discussing the number of deaths in the city last year, which are due to be reported by National Records Scotland this autumn, Mr Alexander said regardless of the numbers, every death caused devastation.
He said: “I’m not aware that there is a greater number of deaths, but for every one, that’s a tragedy – to the individual, to the city and to their family.
“Every death is unacceptable. In some ways it doesn’t matter what the level is, it’s all unacceptable. So whether it’s one or 100, it shouldn’t happen.
“By the end of the year we’ll have a clearer picture, I suppose. I’m not anticipating that it will be lower or any significant reduction, certainly by the year end.
“People and their addictions, they’re very complex and you need to support people through that journey.
“So it takes people years, if not decades to come out the other side of an addiction, so we’ve just got to make sure we’ve got the support in place, the services in place and the practical measures to make sure people can come out that other side, and thrive thereafter.”