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Is it time yet? – SRC response to drug related deaths

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Kuladharini

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Is it time yet? – SRC response to drug related deaths

Thursday 18, August 2016 by Kuladharini

In Vancouver when the number of people who died from drug’s overdose reached over 1000, their friends from the streets and hostels closed off the streets and planted 1000 crosses with their friends names on in the public park. Eventually, after mounting pressure led by people who also used drugs like heroin, Vancouver declared a national health emergency. In Scotland this year we will take our sorrow to the River Carron in Falkirk. This year at the Recovery Walk on September 17th there will be 706 roses, one for each person who died of drug related causes last year.

While the extent of the treatment available in Scotland doubtlessly prevents an even greater number of deaths, it is clear that increasing treatment is no longer enough of a response to the number of drug related deaths.

The addition of a single drugs consumption room to Glasgow’s landscape and the Scotland wide distribution of naloxone kits are initiatives inspired by the Canadian experience of dealing with that declared national health emergency in Vancouver. These are no doubt helpful parts of the picture, but are they enough?

Are we missing a critical and even larger picture by creating responses that are only focused on the individual human being using Heroin or Valium or Cocaine?

Last year, in the same period that 613 people died from drug related causes in Scotland, over 1,500 died from alcohol related causes and over 2000 people committed suicide. How many died from smoking related causes I don’t know, but given our devotion to that drug irrespective of its effects, I can imagine a great many more. My own brother, weakened by years of consistent alcohol abuse, preceded by years of drug abuse died suddenly this March from COPD – a smoking related death.

Is there a bigger picture we are missing here by focusing only on illegal drugs?

The Scottish government recently moved its work on drug and alcohol problems in Scotland from the criminal Justice department to health, signaling an intention perhaps to treat these problems, as requested by the World Health Organisation, as health problems not crime problems.

Alcohol Focus Scotland is looking at whole population responses to the rising use of alcohol. They are looking to regulate the alcohol market with minimum pricing and they want our help to challenge the licensing committee’s approval of so many alcohol outlets in our communities. They are not persecuting individual alcohol users.

Action on Smoking and Health in Scotland, having won the smoking ban in public places, is seeking to regulate the use of nicotine in such ways as to prevent secondary smoke. They are not persecuting individual nicotine users.

If the use of drugs is now a health problem - is the scale of death a national health emergency yet? Can we take some bigger wider perspectives on the situation rather than knee jerk responses of more this and more of that? Clearly, what we have done so far, laudable though it is, has not produced the outcome we all want.

Is it time we looked at the bigger picture? The SRC board will be hosting a deeper conversation in the autumn to allow the recovery community to respond, we may well be asking – is it time we stopped persecuting people for having a health problem?

18th August 2016

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