Drive addicts off our roads
IT IS an obscenity that a young woman who has just given birth to her fourth child should have to attend the funeral of her toddler daughter. My house overlooks the graveyard in Colinton Village. Its occupants are the best neighbours I have ever had and Colinton Dell is blissfully quiet; nothing but the faint sound of the nearby Water of Leith.
Into this idyll, one sunny summer's day, blundered Daniel Jackson, driving his Jeep Cherokee with only methadone, heroin, Mogadon, Valium and morphine as his navigators. He chased blindly through Colinton's narrow streets, bringing terror to the afternoon school run, mowing down and killing little Olivia Donachie and leaving her mother permanently disabled.
When I first saw 33-year-old Rachel Donachie, after her leg amputation, making her way in a wheelchair to visit the grave of her beautiful four-year-old, the sight played havoc with my emotions. Bear in mind, I am used to seeing the bereaved visit. But on behalf of this young mother, I felt wretched, helpless, inexpressibly sad and deeply angry; emotions undoubtedly experienced by countless Scots in the face of a society which, increasingly, gets its kicks from drugs - most of them illegal. The tragic fate of this gentle family reflects the true cost of our appalling drug habit.
At the time of Olivia's death, Rachel Donachie had only just experienced the elation of birth. Such sudden, devastating loss on top of so much joy must have inflicted unimaginable trauma on the new mother, her husband Paul and their remaining children, Samuel, seven, and Amelia, two.
All Rachel was trying to do was walk home from the nursery with her new baby Isabella in her pram and Olivia by her side; one child with a foot on the educational ladder, the other new to life. With two more at home, this was a family in its prime, and it was all but destroyed by one single act of evil, by a man - it pains me to call him that - with nothing but his next fix in mind. No matter how hard the Donachies try, they will never be the same again.
We see it on the news every day, read it in the papers. A child is run over and killed by a driver, high on drink or drugs, sometimes both. It happens hundreds of miles away, you shudder then move onto the next item. It doesn't happen right on your doorstep, in a douce village such as Colinton, with its nine centuries of noble history.
There was a time, back in the 1960s and 1970s, when people made the decision to get behind the wheel of a car after spending an evening drinking in the pub. Then it wasn't the sin it is now. Are we going to have to wait another 20 years for drug-driving to be viewed with the same disapprobation? We need, as a matter of urgency, to spread the message that mixing drugs with driving will no longer be tolerated.
The police have made huge strides in tackling the evil of drink-driving. But drugs are not so simple. Alcoholics apart, we tend to drink for pleasure. The majority of people hooked on drugs take them as a chemical means of dulling their pain, real or imaginary. They choose to blot out their reality, whatever it is.
Dare to criticise methadone and its defenders leap into action. The trouble with methadone is it's an opiate. Unlike its illegal sidekick, it is usually taken orally so the addict doesn't experience the highs and lows associated with injecting heroin. Methadone is cheap. It doesn't create a crimewave and, as such, it releases people from the seedy world of hard drugs and dealers in which they find themselves. But many addicts take heroin as well as its substitute. The heroin is not so effective, so they take more and more and, eventually, like Jackson, they overdose. Jackson was on a massive cocktail. I am surprised he could walk, never mind drive.
Drivers need good vision and hearing, quick decision-making capacity and a clear mind, because even the lightest car consists of around a ton of metal. In the wrong hands it is a deadly weapon.
The police currently have to depend largely on gut instincts to detect drugged drivers, and many avoid detection until they hurt or kill someone in an accident. Despite evidence that drug-driving is common, drugged drivers are far less frequently detected, prosecuted or referred for treatment than drunk drivers.
There is now talk of roadside drug-testing kits being introduced in Scotland, and there must also be heavier penalties, such as confiscating an offender's car - with a lifetime ban on ownership.
The authorities could also force offenders to come face to face with their victims so they can realise, as I have, exactly how they have destroyed innocent lives. Personalising the pain they have caused might make them think twice before getting behind the wheel under the influence.
This way, drugged drivers might realise that, like Rachel Donachie, not all their victims die. Many are left with the trauma of sudden disability and all that entails. They may lose their job, their home, their sanity - all because of the turnip-headed stupidity of some numbskull hellbent on getting off his face.
If ever there was a case for Alex Salmond's Government to get to grips with Scotland's drug problem, this must be it. How many more parents must tolerate the trauma of losing a child in such traumatic circumstances?
Is it an insult to the Donachie family to wonder if any good could come out of their agony? Is there the tiniest chance that the unbearable loss of little Olivia could be turned into a beacon of hope for the nation?
• Dani Garavelli is on holiday
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