The public health minister has said he does not have the power to declare a national emergency in response to Scotland’s drugs death crisis.
Backed by Dundee recovery campaigner Sharon Brand and prominent rapper, author and poet Darren “Loki” McGarvey, Scottish Labour’s shadow health spokeswoman Monica Lennon demanded action similar to the urgency of dealing with a natural disaster in how to tackle the increase in drug harm.
Figures released earlier this year showed 1,187 people died from drug-induced death in 2018 – the highest rate in the developed world.
Of those, 66 were from Dundee.
The inaugural report from the Dundee Drug Commission was also published earlier this summer.
Co-founder of Recovery Dundee, Sharon Brand, recently featured on a documentary made by Mr McGarvey detailing how she helps those on the recovery path.
She said every drug user her recovery group works with has suffered from childhood trauma, either through neglect or serious sexual and physical abuse.
Speaking to The Courier following a meeting at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday with Ms Lennon and Mr McGarvey, Ms Brand said she was feeling “optimistic” recovery voices are starting to be heard.
“Thursday morning’s meeting at the Scottish Parliament was one of the first times I feel the recovery community has been represented well and our voices listened to,” she said.
“Declaring a national emergency has to happen. The recovery community is the most marginalised in Scotland, if the rate of death had occurred to any other group it would have been called long before now.
Ms Brand also suggested any future task-force should include people with lived experience of addiction.
“Without that experience, they will not understand the issues and solve the problem,” she added.
The campaign has been backed by members of recovery communities across Scotland.
Ms Lennon, who lodged a motion at Holyrood on the issue, said: “Scotland’s drug death emergency is tragic, it is heart-wrenching and it is shameful, and it cannot be allowed to continue.
“We are asking the Scottish Government to legally designate a public health emergency, not just talk about one.”
Ms Lennon said a drugs emergency could be declared as part of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which describes emergencies as “events that threaten serious damage to human life”.
“It would allow ministers to direct, coordinate and monitor the response of public bodies like health boards, local councils and the police doing to make sure that communities get what they need,” she added.
While Joe FitzPatrick MSP, the minister for public health, agreed the drugs crisis is an emergency, he said the power to declare one lies with the UK Government.
“This is a public health emergency,” he said.
“The question about legally declaring a public emergency, if I had levers within my powers I could assure you I would absolutely use them to do that.
“I absolutely not do not want to make this into a constitutional issue but unfortunately the specific powers to do that rest with the UK government. If I can find any other ways I will.
“I think it is vital the taskforce is able to hear from the widest range of backgrounds with lived-through experience.”