The UK government has been accused of being “depressingly dismissive” in the country’s battle to stem drugs deaths.
SNP Dundee West MSP Joe FitzPatrick made the claim at the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Drugs Taskforce, the latest initiative of the Scottish Government to combat drug harm.
Last year 1,187 people died from drug related causes, 66 of them in Dundee. Experts expect those figures to increase next year.
The Scottish Green party called on Mr FitzPatrick, who is minister for public health, to “redouble his efforts” and speed the taskforce on.
The group is chaired by Professor Catriona Matheson and has 26 members, including Dr Robert Peat – who chaired Dundee’s own drug commission, which published its findings earlier this year.
Mr FitzPatrick had invited the UK Government to attend yesterday’s meeting, but said the Home Office letter he received was “depressingly dismissive”
He said: “This is a public health emergency across Scotland and the UK. Surely, we can put politics aside to get round the table and discuss what we can do, even if that is difficult.”
Mr Fitzpatrick said six of the people in the group had lived experience of addiction, part of an effort to hear the voices of those most affected by the issue.
“We will be speaking to people who are in treatment, right from the early stages, and even those not in treatment, to make sure the ideas of the taskforce will work in practice,” he said.
“We will be going out into communities and hearing that experience directly.”
Prof Matheson said presentations and a film made by people describing life in treatment had been “a grounding experience” for everyone at the inaugural meeting.
” It detailed issues around patient centred care, around getting dosing correct and how best to access counselling and support –which should be an essential part of treatment.
“Unfortunately that is something often missing in treatment services.
“We would like to develop a pathway toward recovery and treatment is part of that, but the idea treatment and recovery are different is inaccurate I would say.”
In addition to the people with experience of drugs misuse on the taskforce, she said there would be people in sub-groups and reference groups, giving a full range of voices from across Scotland.
“Working with people with living experience was planned and thought through from the very start,” she added.
Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie said: “Scotland is in the grip of a drugs deaths crisis, yet it has taken more than six months for the government to get its taskforce up and running, during which time there will have been around 600 drug related deaths.
“The minister needs to redouble his efforts and demonstrate that the government is capable of delivering an emergency response to this ongoing human catastrophe.”
The Home Office said it would continue to work with the Scottish Government, but would not respond to Mr FitzPatrick’s comments directly.