Scotland has been plagued in recent years by the drug deaths that have caused shock and outrage throughout the country. In 2018, 1,187 people died from drug-related deaths, three people per day. This figure is the highest rate of recorded deaths since 1996 when the records first began and were the highest recorded rate in a European country.
It was 27% higher than the previous year and more than three times higher than in England and Wales. The majority of the deaths came from the over 35 age group, long term addicts, who have been dubbed the “Trainspotting generation.” Heroin, codeine and methadone was the cause of 86% of the deaths, and Scotland’s most deprived areas consume drugs at a rate that is 17% higher than the wealthiest areas.
The shock statistics have thrown the government into a national health crisis. Discussions on how to combat the problem have taken centre stage in parliament, and have dominated many headlines.
As someone who comes from a community where many people have died through drugs and drug-related illnesses, and where addiction is sewn into the very fabric of everyday life, I can tell you this, radical change is needed. Change towards how addiction is seen, managed, and treated.
There needs to be serious discussions around the social attitudes and prejudices that addicts are subjected to. The normalisation of the word ‘junkie’ in mainstream society highlights the double standards that exist when it comes to mental health. It is a lack of understanding, humanity, and leads to social isolation, one of the root causes that fuels addiction in the first place.
If politicians want effective policies to radically change the approach towards how addicts are treated and seen within mainstream society, then what I say to them is this, go speak to the people in the communities that are crippled by addiction, don’t spend a day there, spend a week.
If you live in a place where addiction is so prevalent that it has become normalised, you hear the daily chat of how the accessibility of being able to access prescribed methadone is further fuelling addiction instead of combating it. You quickly learn that the methadone program is being used by many to replace one addiction with another, or even worse, it is being used to double up on their drug intake, and now instead of taking just heroin, many people are now taking both. The methadone programme that was introduced in the 1980s was introduced to help the problem, not fuel it and become an accessory to heroin. And while this is not the case for all addicts, it is the case for many.
One issue I feel is also being massively overlooked in this whole debate, is the supply of drugs, and how MPS and the police are planning to tackle the supply chain. In many communities throughout Scotland, it’s easier to get a bag of heroin then it is to get a loaf of bread. You have to walk to the shops to get food, in many communities, you only have to go next door to get your fix, no need to worry about closing times as this shop is 24/7! It’s your neighbours’ selling, it’s your friends selling, and more often than not, you will find someone in your family who’s selling.
With more heroin and drug dealers floating around then empty packets of crisps, is it a surprise to the people who make the law why this is a problem? Mix that with deprivation, crime, and poor education, you have the perfect recipe for drug-fuelled addiction.
And while I feel the supply chain of drugs needs to be seriously looked into, I also feel that measures need to be put in place to help provide more opportunities for those who resort to drug dealing as a means of survival.
Because for those of you who don’t know the reality of supply and drugs, know this, if you talk to someone who has an addiction or who is dealing, you will quickly recognize there is an underlying theme in all their backgrounds. Many have experienced neglect and trauma, some kind of deprivation, family breakdown, and a life plagued with sadness, regret and a lack of opportunities.
You can give an addict all the prescriptions in the world, implement whatever policy you want, but without basic needs being met such as love, understanding, opportunities, and a thriving community, the problem won’t be solved.
When I hear people talk about the crisis, shocked, and their eyebrows raised in disbelief as they hear the scale of the problem, I look at them in shock, because for many people who live in communities where someone dying from drugs has become such a regularity, there is no shock, just numbness. For what is other people’s news has become other people’s reality.
Communities have become so immune to the problem that when they hear the latest of who has died in their area, all they can say is “another one bites the dust.”
We have watched our communities devastated, people we love evolving into a skeletal shadow of their former self. Something that was once important to them takes a back seat for something that could one day kill them, and that’s the reality of addiction. It’s a powerful force, and one I feel is not entirely understood by those in society who make the laws surrounding it. And the irony in this article as I write these words now is that while I was writing this, I got a phone call, to tell me that someone close to me had just died. He was a long term user of heroin and prescription drugs.
There are many aspects of this problem that need to be looked into, more than drug protection and rehabilitation. It’s called providing opportunities and hope for people, especially for those who come from the most deprived areas. Invest in our communities and invest in our people. So people can believe in something they never thought they could, a chance at life. So they never have to pop into their local dealers for a pill or a bag of drugs, so they can escape their own reality, and so… the kids that are growing up now, don’t become the next ‘Trainspotting generation.’