Why Scotland's drug-death crisis may take years to improve – Tom Wood

Here we are again. New figures show last year was another in which Scotland’s drug deaths rose to a new high, by far the worst in Europe.

A man leaves a cross for his brother during an event to remember the victims of drugs at Springburn Parish Church in Glasgow last year

As usual the same excuses have been trotted out – Maggie Thatcher or the years of recession or the fact that drug legislation is reserved to Westminster are said to be responsible.

None of it stacks up, of course, the same political and economic forces prevailed across the UK. Yet, by comparison, England and Wales have far fewer deaths than we do. Once again the critics have had their annual field day, further proof of government incompetence!

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

But hold on, was last year’s appalling death toll not entirely predictable?

I am no fan of the last ten years of stop-go guddle that passed for our drug policy. Funding cuts and a lack of leadership and priority have been a ruinous combination.

But now at last it seems we have a promise of stable funding and a drug minister with a seat at the top table and the ear of the boss.

Even so, with the best will, we were never going to turn it round in a year – let alone the year 2020, the year of pandemic lockdown.

One of the most serious social consequences of Covid-19 has been isolation. We have all felt it to some extent, but for some it has been disastrous.

Loneliness is never recorded as a cause of death, yet it kills thousands, and those suffering from addictions are particularly vulnerable.

Most of the folk we count as drug deaths actually die from a combination of causes and isolation is often a contributory factor. During the year of lockdown, drug and social services have struggled to provide the vital support they normally do. It should come as no surprise that drug deaths rose sharply across the UK in 2020.

But even allowing for the past terrible year, we face a long road back. We took over ten years to slide into our present state and even with our best efforts it may take several years to reduce our drug deaths in any significant way.

In the meantime, we must beware falling for simple solutions to what is the most complex of problems. Drug consumption rooms may capture the headlines but they will bring benefits only at the margins. Likewise, fast-tracking hundreds into rehab, before they are ready, will only result in expensive failure.

We are fortunate in Scotland to have a wide range of expertise and access to the best research on addictions from throughout the world.

If our new drug minister ignores the politics and much of the industry chatter, if she sticks to the evidence and avoids the seductive quick fixes, then in the next few years we will surely turn the corner.

Everyone with a genuine interest should wish her well and give what positive support we can.

Tom Wood is a writer and a former independent chair of Alcohol & Drug Action Teams

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.