Thursday, 27 January 2011

Dundee Leads on Drug Use

In May 2008, Scotland’s Public Health Minister promised to seek police action over claims that part of Dundee’s Hilltown was “awash with drugs”. Shona Robison, MSP for Dundee East, was speaking after a report in the Dundee Evening Telegraph about a heroin dealer whose Hilltown flat was visited by 50 people in less than five hours.

Police had been keeping 43-year-old Donna Winter’s Powrie Place home under surveillance after receiving a tip-off that she was selling drugs. Her solicitor, George Donnelly, told the court that the Hilltown was “awash with heroin” and a torrent of addicts would flood down to his client’s home.

The minister said the drugs issue was one the Scottish Government took seriously and were committed to tackling and would due to unveil a new drugs strategy soon, placing extra emphasis on helping addicts to recover.

A survey of heroin users in Dundee, published earlier that year, found that most were taking the drug daily and spending an average of £18,000 a year to feed their habit. Deputy Chief Constable Kevin Mathieson admitted the force was losing its battle against drug misuse.

He told members of the Tayside Joint Police Board that despite police efforts over the past 10 to 20 years “things are getting worse” with more deaths from overdoses, more people becoming addicts and drugs being cheap and freely available. Those have proved to be prophetic words.

With an overall upward trend from 244 drug related deaths in 1996 to 545 deaths in 2009, The recently published National Drug Related Deaths Database (Scotland) Report 2009 showed that Dundee has the highest rate of drugs related deaths in Scotland, higher even than Glasgow. Dundee can now truly call itself the drugs capital of Scotland.

The majority of those who died a drug related death in 2009 were male, white and from deprived areas. Nearly 9 out of 10 were under the age of 45. Those who had died a drug related death were not an unknown group with the vast majority known to services or others as drug users. Nor were these novice drug users. Where known, two thirds had been long term users for 5 or more years.

There was also a high prevalence of mental ill health, with nearly half of those who had died reported as having a psychiatric condition in the 6 months prior to death with many having had multiple diagnoses. This high prevalence of mental ill health is also illustrated through the fact that 1 in 4 of all cases had attempted suicide and that 1 in 5 overall had a history of self harm at some point in their lives.

This is a group with an inconsistent pattern of contact with services. Nearly 40% overall had been in contact with drug treatment services within 6 months prior to their death. Most of those who were in contact with their GP had been so in the past year. The fact that two thirds of all cases had been in contact with either a drug treatment service or a GP within the 12 weeks prior to death demonstrates that these individuals have not all disconnected and therefore there is the potential to intervene.


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