Scotland currently has the worst drug related deaths in the UK. This statistic is constantly used by the UK government. Nevertheless, the issue of drugs and drug related deaths in Scotland is a real one. I was born and bred in Glasgow and I was raised in a high flat in Maryhill. My exposure to drugs was one of my earliest memories. My father was one of the many people addicted to heroin in the 90s in Glasgow.
At the age of four, I was tasked to watch my little sister when she crawled on the floor to ensure she didn’t ingest any of my father’s drugs. I was exposed to the world of drugs during my formative years. I remember my dad stealing from us and strangers to feed his habit. I remember visiting him in the hospital after an overdose.
Education is key
Drugs can have a lasting impact on both the individual and their support system. However, there is vital information missing from the discussion of drugs. Not all drugs are the same. Having grown up around drugs, I know that alcohol and heroin are very different to coffee and marijuana. There has to be an honest and transparent conversation with our youth about drugs. If we don’t, children will enter adolescence without the right tools to identify and assess different drugs.
I advocate for better education on drugs. It needs to be more than ‘don’t touch drugs’, because that doesn’t hold up in adulthood when you’re offered legal substances that are just as addictive. Therefore, we need to have a different conversation on the types of drugs, the effects the drugs have on yourself and others, and the lasting impacts of drugs. This key to preventing future drug related deaths.
Trying to make a difference
Interestingly, my exposure to drugs sparked an interest in pharmaceuticals. I had observed that legal drugs had the same devastating effects as illegal drugs. I decided to train and become a pharmacy dispenser. It was there I saw how members of the community were suffering. Specifically the methadone patients. Some of the stories I was told were absolutely harrowing. I asked a methadone patient, ‘how did it start?’ The woman was very forthcoming and told me she was raped as a child and she was on drugs before she was a teen.
This tragic upbringing helped me understand, she needs something to numb the pain. Many methadone patients said they felt judged when they came into the pharmacy. With that knowledge I made it my objective to be the friendly happy face. I also worked the needle exchange in the pharmacy, which I was drawn to. My other colleagues didn’t like engaging with users. This was made obvious as they would spray air fresher, refuse them the minor ailment service and talk about methadone patients when they left. This judgement was felt by the patients.
Legal doesn’t equal safe
As briefly mentioned above, legal substances can have devastating effects. I lost three patients to street Valium and this drug is the reason Scotland drugs deaths are increasing. Propranolol, gabapentin, diazepam, zopiclone, codeine, oramorph (fast acting liquid form of morphine). These are only some of the addictive legal drugs given out by GPs.
The deaths related to street Valium were devastating for the community. Diazepam is a legal drug that doctors are now less keen to prescribe. So people have found alternative ways to get diazepam. This where the NHS and our healthcare system must take some responsibility.
Addiction services as it stands just write the prescription for methadone. There is no therapy and no effort to create a support system for the user. This has led to an addiction service that only gives out more drugs. Scotland has advocated for safe spaces for drug users not only to keep people safe but to offer support.
Breaking the stigma
Lastly, the judgement users face by the public is critical to analysis if we are to make any progress in reducing drug related deaths. Judgement prevents people seeking help and it can prevent users truly engaging with the addiction services. I would promote a non-judgemental approach based on an understanding that a user is not born. Rather there is a lifetime of trauma and pain that has led people to substances.
Drugs have played a vital role in my life. I have seen the way they can split up families and I have seen how using drugs makes people forget everything, including their own children. My father claims he is clean now but I do not have a relationship with him. As much as I understand why he used and I want to help other users, I haven’t had the strength to forgive.
I was harmed and put in dangerous situations as a child. The impacts are so profound that I am still processing it all in my 30s. Nevertheless, my father’s addiction is the reason I am so keen to see a more effective approach to drugs in Scotland.
If you or anyone you know has been affected by drug addiction, there are many places able to help, including:
- The NHS website
- The Scottish Drugs Forum
- Scottish Families Affected by Drugs & Alcohol
- Scottish Drug Services Directory
- Action on Addiction
- Turning Point