1,264 individuals lost their life from a drugs-related death in Scotland in 2019. Tuesday’s publication by National Records of Scotland is a bleak reminder of the scale of drug-related harms which continue to affect our communities. Increasing yet again, and this has nothing to do with Covid-19, 2019’s statistics are the highest on record. Scotland now continues to have the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe and a rate 3.5 times higher than in England and Wales.
1,264 lives lost. Families affected, friends affected, society as a whole affected. It is a stark reminder there is still a lot of work left for communities to do.
In our professional lives, we continue to witness and deal with the consequences of drug use in our hospitals, our ambulances and our clinics. Drug use rarely presents in isolation and with it we often encounter incidences of violence, crime, homelessness, debt, social isolation and poor health. Behind every one of the 1,264 deaths is a story of a person and a family who is struggling to live with an addiction.
Significant addiction generally occurs on a backdrop of trauma, often left over from childhood, with drugs or alcohol being used to medicate the memories and pains of adverse childhood experiences, or to help people think they can better deal with their present life challenges. Drug use itself is not the actual problem, it is purely a symptom. As a society we need to consider the underlying problems and causes of drug dependency if we are to solve Scotland’s issue with drug deaths.
Reducing drug-related harms
Despite these alarming statistics, Scotland’s landscape of drug problems is busy as people and organisations attempt to both reduce the supply of street variants of drugs whilst diverting people into alternatives from prosecution. There are a growing number of individuals and organisations committed to harm reduction. It is important to consider what works best and for whom so we can begin to prevent the death toll from rising even further. The BBC covered opportunities for harm reduction in this recent article. What is notably missing is the role of trauma in fuelling addiction.
At Medics Against Violence we are incorporating discussions on drugs into our MAV Schools and MAV Interns programmes because we recognise that young people need knowledge and awareness of their dangers. We believe this is effectively delivered by our volunteer clinicians who have professional lived experiences of dealing with the consequences of drugs.
What young people also need is the opportunity to reach out for help if drugs seem like the only option to allow them to cope with trauma they carry from the past, or to help deal with issues happening in their present lives which can seem overwhelming. For this reason, our lessons also incorporate discussions about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to help young people understand the role they play in shaping their own lives and the lives of others, and how they can overcome such events.
At Navigator we support people with addiction issues every day, it is one of the most common presenting issues for patients. Often they present to struggling with a lifestyle they would never have wished for and hold little hope that recovery is possible. With Navigators’ help and support many have connected with partner services, turned their lives around and embraced recovery.
Getting someone to a place where they feel safe to put the drugs down takes the efforts of many partners. Navigators often comment on their dismay that funding for residential rehabilitation programmes is constantly reducing. A project they work with often is Jericho House who provide residential programmes for both men and women addicted to drugs.
Our Navigator Regional Supervisor Eddie Gorman commented: “Projects like Jericho House are very successful at getting people into recovery, getting them to a place of abstinence and giving them hope. For many recovery would not be possible without these residential programmes. What they need after that is opportunity, something to divert them away from their previous lifestyle and constant support to maintain their abstinence.”
With that in mind, Cocaine Anonymous meetings are also now available to patients in Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Crosshouse Hospitals. Navigators and hospital staff can refer patients to these meetings. The groups are very successful with up to 60 people attending each occasion. At meetings, people can receive the support they need from others who have been on a similar journey to maintain their recovery. The 12 Step Programme followed by Cocaine Anonymous is one of the most successful in helping people get into and maintaining their recovery from addiction.
However, there will always be more to do. The latest drug death statistics are a call for us all to work harder together, to innovate, but most of all to understand and listen to the voices of those affected. We need to see past the stigmatising ‘junkie’ to the deeply traumatised human being underneath, someone’s son or daughter.
Christine Goodall and Scott Diamond
Directors, Medics Against Violence