More than 1,300 people died of drug-related deaths in 2020 – 1,339, to be exact, an increase of 75 from the previous year and the seventh year in a row the figure has increased.
The overwhelming majority of deaths have been considered accidental, with just four percent of deaths due to deliberate self-poisoning.
What this tells us is that these people did not want to die, but suffered from a state of body and mind that forced them to risk their lives on a daily basis.
The number of methadone-related deaths has never been higher.
Benzos such as diazepam and etizolam are again implicated.
Two-thirds of deaths in 2020 were among people aged 34 to 54, and cocaine is playing a growing role in this evolving picture, with more than 400 deaths now linked to the substance.
The drug crisis is evolving. And the same goes for our response.
But it’s the following statistic and nothing else that should dictate the direction of the journey for the Scottish Government – people from underprivileged communities are 18 times more likely to die in drug-related deaths.
It is an astonishing indictment of all levels of governance in this country.
Drug-related deaths are not the product of aging cohorts, or even poly-drug use – they are the end result of structural social inequalities.
People don’t wake up one day and decide to become addicted. They were born into poverty.
Their development as children is stunted by stress and trauma. They come to school with behavior deemed difficult – where their social exclusion begins.
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They seek a sense of safety and security in groups of young people who are disproportionately targeted by the police.
Their mere interaction with the police increases their chances of ending up in court – and sorted into a juvenile delinquent institution.
They will struggle to keep their jobs, access safe and secure housing, and they will disappear from the radar of local health services.
This crisis goes far beyond drugs.
Drug-related deaths are the end result of health inequality.
Sleeping rough is the end result of housing inequality. The educational attainment gap is the end result of educational inequality.
These are the mechanisms by which class inequality is preserved and it is often these forces, acting together on a vulnerable person throughout their life, that culminate in their drug-related death.
When government legislation is primarily aimed at preserving or promoting the interests of the top 20%, and policies that would truly address the inequalities at the root of the conflict with those interests, then drug-related deaths, gender gaps, education level and housing crises are inevitable.
Why is help being offered to children of middle-class parents to buy a house when people with drug addiction problems beg for funding for their rehabilitation?
Why do four-car families receive free prescriptions while the unemployed are punished for arriving late at employment offices?
And why are so many wealthy people walking around, thinking that they are truly successful and resilient – not realizing that their prosperity is, in part, guaranteed by a system that has tipped in their favor?
You could open a safe consumption room on every street in Scotland and you wouldn’t make a big dent in drug-related deaths – as long as drug addicts are sent back to economically emptied communities devoid of hope and opportunity. , they will return to the addiction nightmare.
Drug Addicts Deserve Equal Health Care
The most recent development in the drug crisis is the campaign to enshrine in law a person’s right to treatment for their drug addiction.
Some might wonder why such a right needs to be legislated, given that every citizen already has access to the NHS for free, when they need it. The difference between an addict and someone with cancer is that a cancer patient will be treated whether or not they arrive late for an appointment.
They will be treated regardless of their tone, attitude or enthusiasm for being treated.
But drug addicts are often subjected to very different standards of care than people with other health problems – because drug addiction is still not seen as a disease in its own right.
Drug addicts can literally beg for rehab beds and be told by drug workers that “they are not ready”.
They can be kicked out of pharmacies for behavior deemed unsatisfactory. What a right to treatment puts in place are clear lines of responsibility.
Ergo, if someone wants treatment, they should not only be entitled to it, but have a say in what treatment they enroll in – just like any other citizen with a health problem.
The action is years too late
With the Scottish government increasingly likely to give the green light to safe drug consumption rooms in defiance of Westminster, many see it as too little too late.
That if they can pull it off now, they might have done it years ago.
While this may be true, it’s also important to understand how governments work – they change things when pressured to do so.
It is thanks to tireless work or highly organized activists, who make the media and opposition parties dance at their own pace, that
the government’s hand has been forced.
And my advice would be, if anyone cares, keep that pressure on. Safe consumption rooms, the possibility of decriminalization and increased funding for services are welcome, but the drug sector as a whole needs a fundamental overhaul.
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