A new project to support offenders leaving prison is intended to help drive down Dundee’s shocking rate of drug deaths.
A Scottish Drug Deaths Taskforce was set up to tackle the issue after the country recorded the highest rate in Europe.
It has made funding available to provide one-to-one support for offenders leaving prison in Dundee, which recorded the most drug deaths per head of population in Scotland.
The pilot is being launched by support group Positive Steps, which will work closely with criminal justice services, Perth Prison and Dundee’s integrated substance misuse service (ISMS).
Prisoners with a history of drug addition will be offered eight weeks of one-to-one intervention by a specialist worker. It is hoped this will encourage them to engage with a range of services to address their health and social needs.
Deaths in the city rose from 66 in 2018 to 72 in 2019 in what was the sixth consecutive yearly rise. National Records of Scotland annual statistics show 1,264 people died from drug-related causes in the country in 2019.
Almost 20% of drug deaths in the Dundee involved people who had spent time in prison in the preceding year.
Gary Houston, specialist worker with Positive Steps, said: “This is a great opportunity to provide a proactive response to individuals at high risk of drug related harm.
“I have already established good working relationships with HMP Perth, criminal justice services, ISMS and Housing Options (a Dundee City Council housing advice service).
“This will help create a responsive pathway to assist people to address their issues. My main aim is to have many success stories to tell during the two year project.”
The work will be overseen by the Dundee Alcohol and Drug Partnership (DADP) and is part of a number of approaches being introduced in the city.
Simon Little, independent chairman of the DADP, said: “Dundee obviously has a significant drug death rate so we need to take every possible step we can do to help.
“People leaving prison have been identified as being at risk of dying, especially in the first weeks and months after leaving prison, so supporting them will hopefully help reduce that risk.
“Positive Steps have already been doing excellent work with rehabilitating people, so they are well placed to carry out this work.
“This is a good project that is part of our work to tackle drug deaths in Dundee.”
National charity Sacro, which helps prisoners integrate back into communities, says people leaving prison are at a high risk of falling foul to addiction.
Sharon Stirrat, Sacro director of operations, said: “The first 72 hours are often critical for individuals with complex needs, including drugs and mental health problems.”