If you read this, please understand that it is a comment. Nothing more. It is not an expert’s opinion. 

Almost 1,200 men, women and children in Scotland died of drug-related causes last year. Our drug-related death rate is higher than in England and in Wales. It’s well above the EU average and, possibly, higher than the USA’s. So, its safe to say, we have a problem.

No child growing up in Inverclyde has an ambition to be addicted to drugs or alcohol.  There is nothing attractive about being addicted to drugs or alcohol. People with drug and alcohol problems face significant issues which impact on their health, their relationships, their ability to work and their chances of becoming homeless.

The suicide rate among people with addiction problems is high as are their chances of developing chronic, life-long mental illness. Drug and alcohol misuse often leads to becoming involved with violent criminals, who make their money from selling drugs, and getting onto the wrong side of the law. Addiction impact on individuals, families and the wider community.

Scotland’s death rate figures for drugs are appalling. But that doesn’t mean that the NHS, the Inverclyde Health & Social Care Partnership (HSCP), our local drugs and alcohol workers or charities are washing their hands of people with addiction problems. On the contrary, services which provide support treat the people in need of treatment with the respect and human dignity they deserve.

Interestingly, the postmortems of people who died of drug-related deaths last year revealed that half of them had used methadone. This suggests that despite being in treatment the use of illicit drugs was implicated in their deaths. Again, I am no expert but in the light of recent events, it might be useful to look at other countries and their experience.

In Portugal of the 1990s, one per cent of the population were heroin addicts. That’s serious stuff. HIV and Hepatitis, linked to shared needles, overwhelmed the health system. Drug deaths ran at 300 per month. Their problem then was far worse than ours is now. So, despite being a fairly conservative and religious country, Portugal recognised that it couldn’t just jail its way out of the problem.

Now, its important to say that Portuguese have not legalised drugs. The use of drugs in the streets is still a crime, as is drug dealing. Cannabis is not legal. But since 2000, the authorities have treated addiction and drugs as mainly social problems and public health issues. The success rate for Portugal has been staggering. Twenty years ago it had the EU’s worst figures for drug consumption by far.

Today it’s well below the EU average. Colorado in the US has legalised cannabis but critics complain that organised crime maintains its hold on much of that market. Criminal cannabis is cheaper as it’s un-taxed. So, the jury’s out on this one. Greed and evil know no borders. Consider the case of Insys, a listed US pharmaceutical company. Company executive there bribed doctors to promote fentanyl spray. Its proper use is for terminally ill patients suffering unbearable pain. The problem is that it’s much more addicitive than heroin. But these executive paid doctors to prescribe it for fairly minor complaints. Insys went bankrupt last month but today in the USA, fentanyl and other opioids kill 130 citizens each day.

Here in Inverclyde, everyone knows that, like other communities we have problems with drugs. Drug-related deaths rose by one from 23 in 2017 to 24 in 2018, an increase of four per cent. This is a smaller increase than in other areas but it is no cause for celebration. Inverclyde has the highest rate of drug misuse in Scotland including among younger people. There has been no final victory in the so-called ‘War Against Drugs’ neither in Scotland nor in our Inverclyde community.

As Robert Moran, Inverclyde’s Health & Social  Care Convener, said “Behind every single statistic for drug related deaths there is a life lost which should not have been lost. In Inverclyde the numbers have risen by one in the past year. One more drug death is one too many.”

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