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SNP drugs minister demands action on Dundee deaths within months

Drugs policy minister Angela Constance MSP

Scotland’s drugs policy minister has called for major changes within months to tackle Dundee’s overdose crisis, as she warned city leaders: “I’m not prepared to put up with it.”

Angela Constance told a Dundee Drugs Commission debate at Holyrood that the level of involvement from the Scottish Government in local services is already unprecedented “because the challenge we face is unprecedented”.

But she insisted “nothing is off the table” as Labour MSP Michael Marra, who called the debate, urged the minister to take further action.

Frustration over lack of progress

It comes after the chairman of the Dundee Drugs Commission, Dr Robert Peat, spoke of his “despair” and “frustration” at the lack of progress years on from the publication of the landmark report.

The Commission is an independent panel formed in 2018 to “consider the nature, extent and impact of drug use and to look at drug-related deaths”.

Dr Robert Peat, chairman of the Dundee Drugs Commission.

Speaking at an event in Holyrood on Tuesday, Dr Peat described the situation in Dundee as “just not good enough” as he called on city leaders to accept outside help.

His intervention followed the resignation of Simon Little as independent chair of the Dundee Alcohol and Drugs Partnership earlier this month.

There have been multiple reports of growing frustration among those tasked with turning the tide on the city’s overdose emergency.

‘Nothing is off the table’

Dr Peat’s remarks were raised by Mr Marra on Thursday as he challenged the drug policy minister on why more action has not been taken in Dundee.

But Ms Constance said the level of direction from ministers to NHS Tayside, the local Integration Joint Board and Dundee City Council is already greater than ever before.

She said this is to “implement, at pace, the whole system of change that is required”.

“I am looking for change within months, and most certainly not years, because I agree this has went on far too long and I’m not prepared to put up with it,” Ms Constance said.

Angela Constance.

“I know this parliament is not prepared to put up with it and most importantly I know the communities that I serve and that you serve are not prepared to put up with it so nothing is off the table.

“But make no mistake about it, the ministerial direction is unprecedented because I am absolutely serious about this.”

Plan still weeks away

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

But city residents 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.

It warned the scale of the emergency has been “underestimated” and very little has changed in the years since the first report.

Michael Marra MSP

Speaking later on Thursday, Mr Marra insisted there must now be “real evidence of change”.

He said: “Political and service leaders in Dundee have had two years more than the rest of Scotland to reform services following the first Commission report.

“I am glad the minister has heard the message of despair from the people of Dundee.

“This next moment is vital.

“If progress is not evident then action must be taken to enforce change.”

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