HUNDREDS of children lose a parent to a drug-related death every year, a new report on substance abuse in Scotland reveals.
A total of 331 children lost a parent or parental figure as a result of drugs in 2011, a sharp rise on the figure of 238 the previous before. Heroin substitute methadone was involved in more than half of all Scotland’s drug deaths.
The rise in parental deaths, say doctors, reflects the reduced life expectancy of addicts who took up heroin in the 1980s.
However, the high number of methadone-related deaths fuelled opposition claims that the Scottish Government’s anti-drugs policy is failing. Methadone is regularly prescribed in an attempt to wean addicts of heroin.
Official figures showed that 438 deaths in 2011 were eligible for inclusion in the National Drugs-Related Deaths Database, up from 365 the previous year.
Methadone is the most commonly implicated drug in the deaths, involved in 234 cases or 53.4 per cent.
Heroin was involved in 169 deaths (38.6 per cent) and diazepam in 101 deaths. Cocaine and ecstasy were implicated in 33 and nine deaths respectively, while alcohol was implicated in 93 drugs-related deaths. In some cases, more than one drug was implicated.
The 2011 figures show over three-quarters of those who died were men, at 78.3 per cent. Of those who died, 189 were known to be a parent or parental figure, up from 140 the previous year.
Dr Roy Robertson, a GP who chairs the national forum on drug-related deaths, said: “The deaths are partly the legacy of the large influx of drugs we saw in Scotland in the 1980s. Inevitably people are going to die younger as a result of this.”
Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said: “The number of drug deaths continues to rise and the trend is deeply worrying. While methadone is a valuable way of stabilising drug use, it can’t be seen to be the only solution for drug addiction. ”
Conservative chief whip John Lamont said the report was: “Further evidence the Scottish Government’s tactics in tackling drug misuse are not working.”
But Paul Tuohy, chief executive of substance abuse prevention charity Mentor said: “We need to rethink our entire approach. If those parents who are dying now because of their drug misuse had been given proper support and effective preventative programmes at school, many would not have gone on to become addicted to drugs.”
Mr Tuohy said the children of addicts were particularly vulnerable. He advocated more support for parents and children in schools to prevent them becoming second generation addicts.
He said: “Of course you need treatment programmes, but we need to be looking at what can be done to prevent young people becoming addicts in future.”
A government spokeswoman said: “We are dealing with a long legacy of drug use. That’s why our strategy aims to ensure those who need treatment get it and why we have invested record amounts in front-line services to help people recover, £30.2 million in 2012-13, a rise of more than 20 per cent since 2006-07.”