The rising number of drug related deaths across North Ayrshire was the topic of a summit held on Tuesday, January 21, at Saltcoats Town Hall.
The event was organised jointly by North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership and North Ayrshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership, after a motion by Councillor Louise McPhater to declare a drugs death emergency was passed by North Ayrshire Council in September of last year.
North Ayrshire has experienced an unprecedented rise in drugs deaths, in line with the trend across Scotland, with 38 confirmed drug related deaths recorded in 2018. The number of deaths is expected to be higher still for 2019.
Over 100 key partners, stakeholders and members of the community – including staff from North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, the NHS and North Ayrshire Council, as well as emergency services, charities, third sector and community groups – attended this important event to explore what is currently being carried out locally and nationally and discuss what else can be done collectively to prevent drug related deaths.
Speakers included Paul Main, Chair of North Ayrshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership, Catriona Matheson, Chair of the Drug Death Task Force; Kirsten Horsburgh of the Scottish Drugs Forum; Martha Rae, Scottish Families Affected by Drugs and Alcohol; Dr Clare Duncan and Anne Lee of the North Ayrshire Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service (NADARS); Tam Mitchell, Recovery Development Worker, NADARS; and Thelma Bowers, Head of Service for Mental Health at North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership.
As well as an overview of the scale of the problem in Scotland and North Ayrshire, and the key drivers that lead to drugs deaths, speakers highlighted a need for communities to be empowered and supported when it comes to drugs-related deaths and work together to find solutions.
The effects on bereaved families was highlighted, along with the need to reduce stigma and focus on developing harm reduction methods.
The work of the North Ayrshire Drug Death Prevention Group was also highlighted. Set up by the North Ayrshire ADP in 2018, this multi-agency group has implemented a number of key actions aimed at the prevention of drug related deaths, including the promotion of the supply of life-saving Naloxone – a short acting medication which temporarily reverses the effects of opiod overdose.
371 Naloxone kits were handed out in North Ayrshire from January to September 2019, with at least 37 lives reported to have been saved.
The group also works collaboratively within a Pan-Ayrshire Drug Related Death Prevention Group.
Councillor Robert Foster, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “While there is already a significant amount of great work going on within North Ayrshire, more must be done and we need to look at this in a different way.
“There are no quick or easy solutions, but we must all work together to stop these tragic deaths from occurring.”
Thelma Bowers, Head of Service for Mental Health at North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “The North Ayrshire drugs death summit was held in response to the rising numbers of deaths in our communities and the families affected by this.
“We have heard accounts of the ongoing work being carried out both nationally and locally, and we will work together and continue to evolve until outcomes for those affected by substance use does not result in the loss of a life. We also need our wider communities to support us on implementing change and breaking down stigma.
“We had a diverse group of individuals, services and organisations here today, which reflects our collective commitment to addressing drug deaths, and welcome the announcement from Catriona Matheson that the Drug Death Task Force will meet in Ayrshire in March.”
In her closing remarks at the summit, Thelma also revealed plans for a Participatory Budgeting event entitled ‘The Substance of Our Communities’, the details of which will be announced soon.
This community-led exercise will allow projects aimed at helping recovery and preventing drugs related deaths to bid for grants of between £8k and £10k, with the public having the final say on which of the projects will receive funding.
Information on how to apply will be available soon at www.northayrshire.comunity, or follow @NHSCP, @NorthAADP or @North-Ayrshire on Twitter for updates.