‘You’re told to continue using heroin instead of getting help’: Drug users in Dundee say they are being let down by poor quality support services

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Drug users say they are being let down by poor quality support services in Dundee – and are leaving the city amid fears it will kill them before they get clean.

People looking to wean themselves off drugs such as heroin get help from the Integrated Substance Misuse Service (ISMS) based at Constitution House.

ISMS works on a referral basis with agencies such as Addaction, issuing scripts for opiate replacements such as methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone).

© DC Thomson
Dave Barrie of Addaction.

The service has been criticised over claims it is inefficient – with service users staging a protest outside the building in 2017.

Last December, Dundee’s integrated joint board – the group overseeing the management of the Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) – agreed to overhaul the ISMS.

A preliminary report delivered to the group on Tuesday suggests the plan is “strengthening (the) focus on enabling recovery” – but acknowledges that the service is creaking under “increasing patient demand”.

Those engaging with the service say not enough is being done to help those that it is for.

Danny developed a heroin habit after falling into depression and says he has been in touch with the ISMS for the last year.

The 31-year-old dad – who spoke to the Tele anonymously because of fears of being stigmatised – left Dundee for Perthshire and believes he is no closer to quitting for good 12 months on.

He said: “I had been going to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) which was a big help but there’s a lot of group speaking and I’m not a big talker, so I started at Addaction.

“They said it’d be a long wait before I could get an appointment (at the ISMS).”

One person dead every week from overdoses in Dundee

Before his appointment, ISMS switched to a “drop-in” service – and he was lost in the system.

When he turned up, having journeyed from a relative’s house in the Lothians, he was told to come back another day.

Danny believes ISMS staff are not interested in the welfare of those who come seeking help.

He added: “Once I was told there were no prescribers in to see me. You’re told to use (heroin) in the meantime until you can see someone. They expect you to go out and find drugs and they know you’re doing it.

“They’re telling you you’ve got 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.

“I was meant to be starting college this year but I’ve asked to put it off because I don’t want to be dealing with that while trying to get clean.

“I want to start over and build a relationship with my daughter but the service is not getting better – it’s got worse.”

Recently Danny has been getting support from Recovery Dundee. The service has given him a pillar to lean on in hard times – and friends who are fighting the same battles.

Sharon Brand, co-founder of the group and an advocate for Danny, believes the ISMS isn’t fit for purpose at present.

© DC Thomson
Sharon Brand of Recovery Dundee.

She said: “You would never ask an alcoholic to go and get more alcohol to stop them drinking.

“The service needs a total overhaul – or the death rate will continue to rise.”

Dundee HSCP said: “We understand the challenges across substance misuse services and how these can impact on people seeking support. We are working to address them.

“The ISMS is currently going through a redesign programme which will incorporate the outcomes from the Dundee Drugs Commission when this reports.”

 Danny’s name has been changed at his request and to protect his anonymity.

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