The number of deaths caused by drugs in Scotland has increased. The National Records of Scotland’s official records in 2018 reported a 27% increase from the previous year’s figures. Most of the deaths were from people aged 35-44, the so-called “Trainspotting Generation.” Because it has reached the 1000 threshold, the public is outraged.


Officially the body count is 1,187. The highest number of deaths was reported in Dundee City, Glasgow, and Inverclyde.


The number of deaths related to drugs has overtaken the number of deaths related to alcohol consumption.


Effectively, Scotland is now Europe’s drug death capital. Traditionally, Scotland has a reputation as a hard-drinking nation. Because of the rising trend of drug deaths, Scottish people are recognizing that they have a national crisis. Addiction centres such as Edinburgh Rehab Centre are seeing increasing numbers of enquiries for alcohol and drug addiction.


War on drugs not working


Under the law, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, possessing “controlled drugs”, supplying and selling controlled drugs are illegal acts. This does not stop drug use, abuse and drug-related deaths. Law enforcers have remarked that they have lost the war on drugs.


Banning the use, distribution and possession of drugs has done nothing to prevent deaths.


There is a public move to change public policies regarding drugs, including the plan to decriminalise drug use and possession. So far, though, the Drug Deaths Task Force set by the government is still set to review the Misuse Drugs Act.


The Drug Deaths Taskforce was set up in July 2019 by the Minister for Public Health and Sport. It is chaired by Professor Catriona Matheson has expressed the need to loosen the punitive attitude towards drug possession in Scotland.

Further, she added that putting drug users in prison only marginalises them. By de-criminalising, more efforts and resources can be channelled towards treatment programmes.


The Drug Task force is newly set up. It could take a while to for dramatic changes to take place. It is clear that government is taking action now. For example, in Dundee there is a RAPID (Response Against Prescription and Illegal Drugs) bin scheme which allows people to dispose of drugs in a safe way.


As of current time, decriminalisation has not yet been implemented. Many experts believe that this is the way to move forward with the nation’s drive against drug-related deaths. Aside from decriminalisation, using drug consumptions rooms have been proven effective in reducing drug-related deaths.


The theory behind this method is backed by scientific evidence that they are effective. In countries such as Germany and Netherlands, for instance, drug consumption rooms have been able to:

  • Reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C
  • Reduce deaths through over dose
  • Encourage people who use drugs to seek treatment


Quoting Ronnie Cowan, of the Scottish National Party (Inverclyde), “No country that has adopted Drug Consumption Rooms has ever regretted it and subsequently closed them. Switzerland and Spain have closed DCRs, but only because the need for them reduced significantly—they were so successful that they put themselves out of business.”


What is fuelling drug-related deaths?

The use of “Street Valiums” has accounted for two thirds of drug deaths through overdose. These pills are touted as “Scotland’s little helper”. Originally nicknamed “Mother’s little helper” by a Beatles’ song, street valium is very different from real Valium. In a BBC interview, an addict named “Billy” sketches the kids of Valiums he has seen on sale on the streets.


Clearly, these are not the Benzodiazepine medications that are legally prescribed to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. These are illegal, fake Valiums produced from Do-it-yourself drug factories; they are widely trafficked in Scotland.


Police have confiscated huge amounts and varieties of these drugs they call “Street Valium”. Cheaper than heroin, addicts prefer using them because they buy more of them using the same amount of money than other drugs. Street Valium is also very easy to procure.


Young Street Gangs have are seen as responsible for their distribution. This means that somebody as young as sixteen years old can supply you street Valium if you are looking for it in Scotland.


Poly-drug use means using different drugs together. Combining Street Valium is lethat and has driven the number of deaths to climb. The most dangerous and common combinations are:

  • Street Valium + crack cocaine
  • Street Valium + methadone
  • Street Valium + heroin
  • Street Valium + alcohol


It must be remarked that most of the people who have methadone in their bodies while using Street Valium were under treatment from addiction. Methadone is NHS’s major solution for addiction treatment. Obviously, it is not cost-effective nor efficient.


What about the so-called “Trainspotting Generation”, whose numbers compose the majority of those who died? New research pinpoints the characteristics of those who belong to this group: these are mostly men who were born between the years 1960-1980, living in the poorest areas of Scotland.


They also have mental health and physical health issues; having been addicted for a long time, their health has naturally deteriorated.


Now in mid-life, the Trainspotting Generation has gradually built tolerance for the drugs they abuse. When drug tolerance occurs, a person needs more and more of the drug to feel any pleasurable effects. In fact, a lot of addicted people do not feel anything good when they take drugs.


Taking them just makes them feel normal. If they stop, they cannot function. This is the true definition of drug dependence. Over time, drug users need higher and higher dosages to feel any effect from the drug. Eventually, they use too much and overdose.


As dangerous as it is, there is another factor that adds to the threat. Since Street Valium is not made using standard processes, the amount of active components in the drug is not predictable. In one batch it could be strong, in another batch, it could be weak or stronger.


Taking these street Valiums is like playing Russian Roulette. Considering that most users take up to 30 pills a day, we can see how risky it is if a user ends up with the potent types.


So far, decriminalising drug use and putting up Drug Consumption Rooms appear to be the most effective solutions in solving Scotland’s drug crisis. The government needs to change methods that do not work or it will continue to see its citizen die of from these preventable deaths.


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