ANGELA Constance has admitted there is “much more to do” in Dundee to curb a soaring number of drug deaths in the city.

The SNP’s Drugs Policy Minister has spoken out as the city recorded the highest drugs death rate in the country.

But Labour has warned the crisis in the city shows a "total failure of local leadership".

New statistics from the National Records of Scotland show that 1,330 people died in 2021 as a result of drugs misuse – essentially standing still from 2020’s record-breaking tally of 1,339.

The five-year rolling average deaths rate between 2017 and 2021 for Dundee was the highest in Scotland, standing at 45.2 per 100,000 population, increasing from 39 per 100,000 population in 2020.

Dundee had the largest increase in its drug misuse death rate, from 5.9 per 100,000 population in the period 2000-2004 to 45.2 per 100,000 population in 2017-2021.

Links have been made between deprivation and drug-related deaths in Dundee.

READ MORE: 'Unacceptable': Scotland's drug death crisis flatlines with 1,330 annual fatalities in 2021

Across Scotland, in 2021, after adjusting for age, people in the most deprived areas were 15.3 times as likely to die from drug misuse as those in the least deprived areas with that ratio increasing over the past two decades. 

The proportion of drug deaths in deprived areas are higher in Dundee compared to Scotland-wide fatalities.

Since 2009, the percentage of drug deaths has been higher for females in Dundee compared to the rest of Scotland, except from the three years from 2015 to 2017.

Since 2015 there has been a steadily increasing trend of drug deaths in Dundee amongst those who live on their own.

Asked about the situation in Dundee, Ms Constance insisted that there is a need “to be engaging with people as individuals and meeting their needs”.

The Dundee Drugs Commission Spent two years examining the strategy in the city and made 12 recommendations including calling on city leaders to “refocus its efforts and upscale its response in order to speed up the pace of change”.

READ MORE: Scotland's drug deaths: Call for UK ministers to stop 'criminialising vulnerable communities'

The outgoing chair of the Dundee Drugs Commission, Dr Robert Peat, praised the “genuine and extensive efforts to address the drugs challenge” in the city, but warned “the scale of the challenge has been greater than the partnership anticipated”.

The commission warned action had not gone “far enough, deep enough or fast enough”.

It concluded: “The scale of the challenge cannot be overstated and must not be underestimated, against the backdrop of high levels of poverty and deprivation in the city.”

Ms Constance said: “The work undertaken by the Dundee Commission has been really important here because it has stressed the need to move away from quite centralised medical models and that there needs to be real partnership working with the voluntary sector.

“Dundee is very blessed that it’s got a very rich and active voluntary sector right across the city.

“I know people are working very hard in Dundee, but like elsewhere in Scotland, there is always much more to do. Dundee is an area that I take a personal interest in.”

Asked specifically about a particular problem in Dundee, Ms Constance told The Herald: “I accept that in some parts of the country, the situation is more acute.

“The Scottish Government, as well as working collectively with our local partners, there are some areas of the country that we provide more bespoke support.

“I engage a lot with leaders and services in Dundee as you would expect.

“For the first time, we have a ministerial direction which will ensure that local leaders, whether the local authority, the IJB or health board, are personally sign-off on improvement plans.”

She added: “I am very clear about my responsibility and I am very clear about the accountability of the Scottish Government to lead and drive chance.

“We also need better local accountability at every level of the system, including at a very local level too.”

Labour MSP for the North East, Michael Marra, said: ”Sadly these figures confirm the total failure of local leadership in Dundee on our drug death epidemic.

“There has been no real reform of the services that are central to keeping drug users alive and to setting them on the path to recovery. The pace of change is glacial and the failure to act is being measured out in lost lives and broken families."

He added: “In Dundee and across Scotland drug and alcohol services are woefully underfunded. They were cut to the bone in SNP budgets and require a recovery package commensurate to the seriousness of this situation.

“We have had years now of reports, commissions and taskforces – now we need the Scottish Government to act.”

The battle to tackle the city’s soaring drug deaths rate was dealt a blow last month when Simon Little quit as chairman of the Dundee Alcohol and Drugs Partnership.

City leaders are drawing up a revised strategic framework and delivery plan for drug and alcohol recovery in Dundee.

Key commitments in the plan include enhancing 24/7 crisis care responses and full implementation of the medication assistance treatment (MAT) standards.

Leader of Dundee City Council, John Alexander, said: "Each individual death has an impact on family and friends left behind. There have been and remain too many of these tragedies in Dundee despite a year-on-year fall in numbers.

“City agencies are working hard to further reduce drug deaths and we are now bolstering and widening the ways in which we tackle these problems and support individuals. We look to learn lessons from every single drug death in the city."

Ken Lynn, chairman of the Dundee Integration Joint Board (IJB), added: “Our ambition is to make Dundee a city of recovery, where we can start to move on from decades of suffering and look forward to a new future.

"We have to remember that this is a long-term strategy to try and solve problems which have been with us for generations.

"No one agency can tackle these decades-old problems on their own, and there is no one simple solution that can be applied in a short timescale.

“I am aware that there are frustrations about the situation, but our resolve needs to remain firm.”