Three people are dying every week in Tayside and Fife because of drug misuse, a shocking report reveals.
Dundee has overtaken Glasgow as having the worst death rate in Scotland, a country which eclipses all other EU nations for fatal overdoses.
There were 160 narcotics deaths in Tayside and Fife in 2017, according to official figures published by the National Records of Scotland.
The number of deaths in Scotland is “higher than those reported for all the EU countries” and about two-and-a-half times the UK level, the report said.
David Liddell, from the Scottish Drugs Forum, said each figure represents a “person lost and a family bereaved”.
“Dundee families and communities are forced to bear the weight of this loss,” he said.
“These deaths are not inevitable.
We can prevent deaths by making sure that people are in accessible and high quality treatment.”
There were 57 drug fatalities in Dundee last year, compared with 38 in 2016. Dundee now has the highest number of the deaths per resident in the country, taking over from Glasgow.
The trend for spiralling narcotic-related deaths is repeated across Courier Country, with all council areas posting their worst figures last year since at least 1996.
Fife saw a big increase in the number of deaths to 66, which is 47% up on from the previous year.
There were 18 narco-fatalities in Angus and 19 in Perth & Kinross.
Heroin or morphine was implicated in two-thirds of the deaths in Tayside, the highest proportion in Scotland.
The sleeping pill benzodiazepine was a likely contributor to 69% of the Tayside fatalities, again the highest in the country.
Across Scotland, there were 934 drugs deaths last year, which is up 8% on the previous year.
John Finnie, the Green MSP, said that demands a “serious overhaul” of Sotland’s drugs strategy, including an end to the Conservatives’ “war on drugs”.
“We cannot shy away from a discussion on decriminalisation, as most drug use should be tackled as a public health issue rather than a crime,” he said.
Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said their new drugs strategy is designed to “prevent others from experiencing similar heartbreak”.
“This is in direct response to the changing drugs landscape, the continued rise in drug related deaths and the recognition that current services do not meet the needs of all the people who need support.
“The new strategy will take a person-centred approach so that treatment and support services address people’s wider health and social needs, such as mental health, employability and homelessness.”
‘Absolutely shocking’ figures
Opposition MSPs have slated the Scottish Government for reducing funding for alcohol and drug partnerships while fatal overdoses increased.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats called on ministers to take responsibility for the “horrifying” NRS figures.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Lib Dem MSP, said the Scottish Government should “hang its head in shame” for the cuts to drug and alcohol services.
“The drug death toll in Tayside and Fife has been relentlessly climbing since 2011,” he added. “Communities, health workers and families need to see urgent change to tackle this destructive and heart-rending trend.”
Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar said the “absolutely shocking” figures should serve as a “wake-up call” for the Scottish Government.
“The SNP government has slashed alcohol and drug partnership funding at a time when drug deaths were hitting record levels,” he said.
“SNP ministers need to give themselves a shake and take responsibility for their actions. If you underfund vital substance misuse services people die.”
SNP councillor Ken Lynn, who is chairman of the Dundee health and social care board, sits on the Dundee Drugs Misuse Commission, which has the ultimate aim of reducing the deaths to zero.
Mr Lynn welcomed the “change in tone” from the Scottish Government when Nicola Sturgeon said she would be prepared to adopt controversial measures.
“I haven’t heard them be quite as bold as that before, in that they are prepared to ruffle feathers and make decisions that might be unpopular,” Mr Lynn said.
“The noises that are coming out of Westminster are very different. They don’t seem to be interested in radical solutions. It’s the same-old that hasn’t worked for decades – the purely criminal justice approach. It’s depressing really.
“We want to focus more on it as a health issue.”
Bill Bowman, the Conservative MSP, said: “We need a radical and urgent drugs strategy which is tough on the dealers and everyone who profits from this evil industry.”
Dr Emma Fletcher, chairman of the Tayside Drug Death Review Group and consultant in public health medicine, said the drugs commission is taking evidence from users about their experiences to inform new measures.
She said the take-home naloxone programme – medication that can stop deaths by countering the effects of opioids – is being extended, meaning more people have access to the kits.
“Each drug death is comprehensively reviewed by the Tayside Drug Death Review Group and, together with the Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships in Tayside, we are continuously seeking ways in which we can improve the support provided to people who take drugs, their friends and families, with the aim of reducing and preventing drug deaths in future,” Dr Fletcher added.