David Liddell, Scottish Drugs Forum CEO, says Scotland's record number of drug-related deaths can be addressed through better support and resources
The sheer toll of drug-related deaths is a staggering weight carried by families and communities and the wider Scottish nation.
Just over 10,000 people have now died since these figures were first issued in 1996. That is the equivalent of the entire population of a Scottish town like Fort William or Stranraer or Methill or Haddington. Last year was a record high – and so was the year before and the year before that - in the last 10 years the annual figures have more than doubled.
And for each of the people who have died, there is a family - children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers - who are left to grieve and rebuild their lives. Last year almost a thousand people died resulting in possibly around 10,000 people losing someone close to them in just one year. That is an immeasurable loss. The impact of bereavement lasts a lifetime for those left behind. The harms to a child losing a parent, in particular, are huge. It impacts on communities and on all of us. We have to protect children and their families and communities by ensuring people survive the problems they are experiencing with substance use.
Scots are more than five times more likely to die from drugs than in a road traffic accident and yet these deaths are entirely preventable. We know how to prevent drug-related deaths - and yet we don’t do all that we could to prevent them.
Scotland prides itself in its sense of equality and fairness. And so we have to take a look at ourselves and our actions. There are some tough questions to be asked and some truths to be faced. Why have we not acted more swiftly to prevent these deaths and supported people to have the opportunity to improve their lives?
People experiencing problems with substance use can and do recover and, given the opportunity to improve their lives, can make drastic changes that help them, their families and communities. To allow people to do that we have to make sure that they survive their drug problem and this means allowing them to reduce the harms caused by drugs.
There are a whole range of things that could be done to prevent these deaths – Scotland needs to show commitment and take the action to do so – as we have done in order to reduce deaths from car accidents. For the cost of providing a dual carriageway on a few hundred meters of the A9, we could substantially prevent these deaths amongst some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland and prevent families and communities suffering this loss. That means making sure there is accessible high quality healthcare and support – like the rest of us are afforded when we are ill; that means removing people from the dangers of unregulated street drugs.
There are a whole range of things that could be done to prevent these deaths
The deaths we are grieving now are caused primarily by street drugs which are often contaminated and mixed with other drugs. The police know they cannot arrest their way out of this situation, nor are we going to imprison the 60 000 Scots who are experiencing a drug problem. What we need to do is help people address the issues they have in their lives; that means them being allowed and supported to engage with the health and other services they require.
A new Scottish drugs strategy is due to be announced – imagine it was based on the notion that people had the right to life; that we had a national strategy to prevent drug deaths as we currently do for deaths by suicide; imagine that we could save more than 10 000 Scots suffering a bereavement next year. We imagine a different Scotland; that Scotland is possible.