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Dundee drug deaths debate kicked off agenda as MSPs discuss independence

Dr Robert Peat, chairman of the Dundee Drugs Commission.
Dr Robert Peat, chairman of the Dundee Drugs Commission.

A leading figure in Dundee’s battle against drug deaths spoke of his “despair” at the “lack of action” as a debate on the crisis was delayed at Holyrood while MSPs found time to discuss independence.

Dr Robert Peat, chairman of the Dundee Drugs Commission, revealed his “frustration” four years on from the publication of the landmark report.

Speaking at an event in Holyrood on Tuesday, Dr Peat said the situation in Dundee “is just not good enough”.

He called on city leaders to accept outside support to turn the tide.

The summit was to allow those with lived experience of caring for people with addiction issues to meet with Commission members, MPS, charities and academics.

‘Despair’ over timetable for action

A report on reducing harm associated with drug use was submitted to Dundee City Council’s policy and resources committee on Monday.

But families will need to wait until later this summer for bosses to set out their battle plan in full – several months after an update to the Drugs Commission report was published in March.

“I despair. I actually despair of the timescale,” Dr Peat said.

“What needs to be done to just get on with this?”

A ceremony to mark International Overdose Awareness Day with arrangements of empty shoes and crosses to mark drug deaths in Dundee.
A ceremony to mark International Overdose Awareness Day with arrangements of empty shoes and crosses to mark drug deaths in Dundee.

The expert’s comments are the strongest indication yet of growing tensions in the city over the lacklustre fight to turn around its drug deaths record.

The departure of Simon Little as independent chair of the Dundee Alcohol and Drugs Partnership earlier this month was described by a local MSP as evidence “little to no progress” has been made.

‘Why is there not more outrage?’

Dr Peat said: “My frustration is that we have had the highest incidence of drug deaths for many, many years in Dundee.

“Putting Covid aside, it has been the number one public health issue for Scotland.

“Why is there not more outrage about this?

“We started in 2018. We’re now more than four years on. How long do we have to wait?

From left: David Martin, Trudy McLeay, David Lynch, Dr Robert Peat, Chairman of the Dundee Drugs Commission, John Alexander, Simon Little, Grant Archibald and Chief Superintendent Andrew Todd in 2019.
From left: David Martin, Trudy McLeay, David Lynch, Dr Robert Peat, Chairman of the Dundee Drugs Commission, John Alexander, Simon Little, Grant Archibald and Chief Superintendent Andrew Todd in 2019.

“Some of the things we identified that need to be changed, we said it as our work was being done. We didn’t wait for the report to be produced.

“They knew some of the key points even back then so how long does it take?”

‘A living hell’

MSPs heard the moving testimony of Dundee grandmother Pat Tyrie.

Ms Tyrie became a member of the Drugs Commission after taking full-time care of her grandson when a family member “descended into a life of misery and despair”.

She described the “living hell” of not knowing whether a loved one is still alive while they are out using drugs.

“It destroys you. It almost destroyed me,” Ms Tyrie said.

Pat Tyrie member of the Dundee Drug Commission
Pat Tyrie has been personally affected by the drugs crisis.

Drug deaths debate postponed

Tuesday’s event was supposed to be followed by a debate on the Dundee Drugs Commission at the Scottish Parliament.

But it was postponed at the last minute until Thursday as MSPs argued over Nicola Sturgeon’s latest push for an independence referendum.

The Parliament also required additional time for Coronavirus Recovery Bill, with business in the Chamber continuing until after 9.30pm.

North East MSP Michael Marra, who arranged the summit and was set to lead the debate, said the postponement “is as clear a signal as is possible that nothing has changed”.

Michael Marra MSP
Michael Marra MSP.

“The first minister has admitted that she took her eye off the ball on Scotland’s drug deaths epidemic – that other matters had her attention over the last decade,” he said.

“Members of the Dundee Drugs Commission were already in the building for the debate and families with experience of addiction were on their way to Edinburgh.

“It could not be clearer how out of touch the SNP are with Scotland’s needs.”

It is understood the postponement was agreed by all parties.


Dundee MSP slammed for missing summit

Dundee City West MSP Joe FitzPatrick was criticised for failing to attend the summit and then arriving in the Chamber a short time later to ask a question on independence.

Mr FitzPatrick, who lost his job as the SNP’s public health minister over rocketing drug deaths, met with charities earlier in the day but was not present for the roundtable.

SNP MSP Joe FitzPatrick.

North East MSP Tess White said: “Today’s roundtable was a critical opportunity to consider solutions to Scotland’s drug deaths crisis.

“So it was bitterly disappointing that Joe FitzPatrick, who was the minister responsible until last year, refused the invitation.

“He was apparently preparing to ask a question about independence instead.

“In fact, no SNP MSPs attended what is meant to be a cross-party event to meet people at the coal face of addiction and recovery services.

“This snub only hammers home what Joe’s priorities are, and those of his government.”

An SNP spokesperson said Mr FitzPatrick regularly meets with the chair of the Dundee Drugs Commission.

They said he was unable to attend the roundtable as he had “a prearranged meeting with Peter Krykant and Cranstoun at the same time, where he pledged his support for their campaign for overdose prevention centres”.

An SNP source said a staff member accompanied Mr Krykant and Cranstoun officials to the roundtable following the meeting, approximately 35 minutes after the roundtable started, as Mr FitzPatrick made his way to the Chamber.

The meeting was wound up shortly after 2.20pm – around 20 minutes later – to allow the MSPs present to attend the first minister’s referendum statement.

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