The statistics out this week which show Scotland having the worst rate of drug related deaths in Europe should shock us to the core.
It is a tragedy of epic proportions. 1187 of our fellow citizens dying due to the use and abuse of drugs in one year in 21st century Scotland. 27% higher than the previous year, and three times that of the UK as a whole. Families, friendships, and communities impacted both by the journey of those 1187 people into addiction and the grief and loss at their death.
This is huge and requires of us many things; though, my first suggestion would be to do nothing. Just for a moment, let us take a collective breath and step back before we respond. This is so deep rooted a problem that it needs so much more than quick response, political silver bullets and a return yet again the blame game tribalism which so often frames our public conversations.
Yes, this is a consequence of austerity. Yes, this is one of the many toxic impacts of welfare reform. Yes, this is a consequence of too often taking a medical approach to addiction when a more holistic journey is required. Yes, we can identify moments when political decisions have had unintended consequences or advice was ignored. Yes, stigma makes recovery much more difficult. Yes, the capacity of law enforcement to limit supply is an issue. Yes, prison is a place where people are more likely to become addicted than be rehabilitated from it. And there are many other similar sentences which could be written about some of the root or secondary causes of this epidemic. But they really don’t take us where we need to be
The author and rapper Darren McGarvey took us closer to the truth when he asked yesterday how many of those who design the myriad of responses to drug addiction have personal experience of the issue. He argues correctly the place to begin our response to this epidemic is poverty and family breakdown.
Yesterday I listened to the words of a colleague in Cyrenians who told me it was their birthday – not, as they put it a “bellybutton” birthday, but the day which marked two years clean and sober. Their story is inspiring. It’s long and crunchy with many stumbles but it is also one of deep change and hope.
I am convinced that listening to them and to others who have trodden the same path is the place to start fashioning a response to the tragedy of each one of those 1187 deaths. It need to be built on the forming of trusted relationships, a willingness to go at the pace of the person with addiction – not defining success for them but listening to how the find meaning and purpose, being patient and never giving up. It is not just about an intervention or a programme or a strategy: it’s about doing whatever it takes to simply be present in such a way that those in the toughest of realities discover they are loved, lovable and others are willing to receive their love.
It means doing all we can to alleviate and eventually remove the poverty and childhood trauma which is where those who would form future sets of similar statistics will begin their troubled journey.