The grim reality of 574 addicts’ wasted lives

EACH year the Scottish Drug Misuse Database releases statistics laying bare the grim reality of drug addiction in Scotland. For a few days politician show angst at the tragedy that lies behind the statistics but somehow attention moves on as if this problem will resolve itself.

It is expected areas of high unemployment and poverty will feature prominently in the SDMD and yesterday’s figures offer little change. Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire all feature as areas showing significant levels of problematic drug abuse, though in truth all of Scotland is affected.

What continues to shock, however, is the numbers of young people under 15 years of age who present as problematic drug users and this year, as the figure records more than 100, that shock does not lessen.

Their first involvement is likely to occur as early as primary school but most often in first or second year secondary, their drug use developing usually from a habit of the illicit drinking of alcohol with school friends. Accessing of drugs builds from that background of irresponsible risk taking in public areas such as parks, isolated school play areas and the likes.

From my experience and talking to young people in prisons, it seems to me likely that school absenteeism arising from heavy drinking and the abuse of drugs (usually cannabis) created for these youngsters a self-imposed understanding of exclusion and thereafter educational failure that ensured that any chances they may have had of early success is denied.

Opportunities for gainful employment were also denied. It is in these circumstances that many turned to heroin, diazepam and cocaine – drugs identified in the most recent statistics as the source of much of the problematic drug misuse recorded. A spiralling downturn in life chances, an increased likelihood of arrest and incarceration and real possibility of drugs-related death beckons.

The latest figures reflect a 131 per cent increase in drugs-related deaths over the ten-year period to 2008 giving us a new yearly total of 574 deaths. 574 tragedies.

It is not the writing of new drugs strategies that will bring about a change in this situation. It’s government leadership to ensure that enforcement, health, education and prisons all work with the voluntary sector towards the sole outcome of reducing problematic drug abuse.

Source: 31st March 2010


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