Same-day prescriptions for methadone in Dundee should have been implemented immediately following expert recommendation, it has been claimed.
City partners gathered for the first time on Wednesday to discuss how to respond to a report by the Dundee Drugs Commission, which had outlined the fractured state of local drug services.
The commission, set up last year to tackle record drugs-related deaths, had said in its much-anticipated report in August that “much quicker access” to Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) is needed.
There are currently only two GP practices in Dundee that prescribe OST on the day of a patient’s appointment, with most having to wait around three weeks.
Ensuring same-day prescriptions for those who need them has been highlighted as one of the key priorities by the Dundee Partnership, which consists of the leaders of public, private and community based bodies in the city.
Labour MSP Jenny Marra however criticised what she perceives as the slow adoption of the recommendation.
She said: “We know it can save lives so why aren’t we doing it now?
“My understanding is that as soon as it was recommended by the commission, it could have been put in place straight away.
“10 weeks later, it hasn’t been done. It makes me concerned for the other nine recommendations.”
Local drugs worker Sharon Brand, who is the co-founder of Recovery Dundee, said the move would be one of the most important changes.
She said: “When someone presents themselves, that’s the moment they’ve decided they want to save their life.
“It’s huge. If you don’t do it right that first time, then the moment could be lost forever.
“My only concern is that it needs to be available for everybody, not just some. It can’t be subjective.”
Dundee currently averages the highest rate of drug-related deaths per 1,000 population.
Across Scotland, fatalities hit a record 1,187 in 2018 – 66 of which were in Dundee.
It means Scotland currently has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe.
The event saw representatives from the council, NHS Tayside, Police Scotland, and voluntary groups address the 300 or so people gathered.
Other strategies detailed by the Dundee Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP) include plans for a new 72-hour co-ordinated multi-service response to non-fatal overdoses.
Experts say this will help prevent further overdoses, which are more likely to be fatal.
Improved leadership and challenging stigma towards people who use drugs and their families have also been made priorities, as well as ensuring treatment is self-determined.
Ms Brand added: “There was a lot of talk about stigma but that is one of the fundamentals of tackling drugs deaths.
“It’s actually quite scary that we need to talk about it but we do. There will hopefully be a ripple effect throughout the city and we will do our part to help.
“The real test if anything has changed will be the number of people dying. I know some things will take longer to put in place but if deaths haven’t dropped in, say, a year’s time, we’ll know the first measures are not working.”
Pat Tyrie, who is a member of the commission, also said same-day prescribing could save lives.
She said: “The difference for me will be if people can go to their first appointment and come out with hope.
“If someone goes to get help and comes out with that feeling then that would show things have changed.
“Someone close to me recently went to get help after coming off OST and it took weeks.
“Their pain and suffering could have been vastly reduced. This is my chance to appeal to the hearts of decision makers.
“There is a real opportunity for Dundee to show it can shine.”
The message many put out was that substance abusers who seek help cannot be turned away at any cost.
Andy Perkins, director of Figure 8 Consultancy contracted to run the commission, said: “There should absolutely and irrefutably be no wrong door.
“Mental health and substance abuse services should be concurrent.
“If people have the courage to approach any service, that should be their route in.
“It’s really important that people get that first chance. We cannot repeat that enough.”
Dundee City Council leader and chair of the Dundee Partnership Councillor John Alexander said: “I am impressed by the insight and the perspective that the commission have given to us to map the way forward.
“Already, recommendations from the commission are being put into action and are making an impact.
“However, this is a long-term journey and we cannot cut corners when it comes to putting in place changes to save lives.
“We are also keen that Dundee’s journey can influence the national situation and that is why we are asking the Scottish and UK governments to consider changes to legislation, funding and policies proposed by the commission.”