Before Covid 19 struck we in Dundee had our own quiet epidemic spiralling out of control.
In the decade before lockdown 447 of our friends, neighbours, old classmates, our cousins, nephews, nieces, our sons and daughters and parents had been lost.
As the line on the graph tipped ever more steeply upwards the voice of our city grew louder.
But our SNP government, now by their own admission, was not listening.
As the number of those lost to drug deaths hit record levels year after year after year the response was callous indifference with a side serving of budget cuts to the critical services that should have been helping.
The stand-out moment for any Dundonian watching the STV leaders debate on April 13 was Nicola Sturgeon’s flippant admission that on drugs deaths the SNP ‘took their eye off the ball’.
Here’s a question: when you are told that cutting services for addicts will cost lives and you do it anyway and then hundreds of people die, can you really say you just missed it?
No one is suggesting that every one of these lives would be saved if the SNP government had not ignored the problem.
Yet if we had the rate of drug deaths of the rest of the UK then three quarters of them would still be alive.
Same laws, different problem
The great inconvenience of these dead Scots to the SNP is that it is logically impossible to blame Boris or Westminster.
The rate of drug deaths are three and half times that of the rest of the UK. Our drug laws are the same. Spending on public services in Scotland is 20% higher than in England.
Our drug problem – quite obviously – is different. We have a particular problem with benzodiazepines bought as street Valium for pennies across Scotland.
They filled the gap in the market when real Valium prescribing was cut back on our Scottish NHS.
You can chuck back a pile of these pills for a quid. Nobody knows how strong they are until their friends start dying.
Scotland made this problem. We can, we must, fix it.
Our services say you cannot receive mental health and drug addiction support at the same time. For many that is like choosing between water and oxygen
In Dundee we have a service culture described as ‘punitive’ by independent experts.
Our GPs play next to no part in addiction services. Our services say that you cannot receive mental health and drug addiction support at the same time. For many that is like choosing between water and oxygen.
Years on from our Dundee Drugs Commission there is scant evidence that any of this has changed.
A belief that change is possible
Drug checking services, safe consumption, non-fatal overdose pathway support would all make an immediate difference across Scotland.
Getting these services in place is not easy. It takes leadership, commitment, focus and unshakeable belief that change is possible.
What we saw on STV the other night was a First Minister who did not appear to believe that she could do anything about any of this. Her eye wasn’t on this ball.
Neither, as it emerged under questioning, was her eye on children dying of infections in a Glasgow hospital or the rock bottom results for the poorest children in our schools.
Scotland knows what Nicola Sturgeon was doing with her time before the pandemic hit. We cannot afford to go back to that place.
We must be a nation focused on recovery. Dundee deserves so much better.
Michael Marra is a Scottish Labour councillor for Dundee’s Lochee ward and a North East MSP list candidate.