The Drug Death Capital of Europe

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 27/05/2019 [Online], Available:  [Accessed: 2019, May 28]

Drugs - generic

“As a city, it is like being tangled in an identity we are trying to wrestle ourselves free from to embrace the new and emerging one being built all around us.”

I have said before that our city is caught between two narratives – a story of austerity and another of prosperity. One speaks proudly of a city undergoing a cultural and commercial renaissance with titles bestowed upon us like ‘the best place to live in Scotland’ and ‘the coolest little city in Britain’. Then, there is another side to the story that is shared with a droll cynicism and from a place where the majority of us reside. We hear these accolades, squint our eyes, tilt our heads and respond: “Who, us?”

While I embrace and welcome this change and admire the external renovation I see all around me, I also feel conflicted. This is because I feel more familiar with the other story where a deeper transformation is needed. As a city, it is like being tangled up in an identity we are trying to wrestle ourselves free from to embrace the new and emerging one that is being built all around us. For many, it would be nice to be a shareholder in that story but can you truly own a story you feel you were never written into?

We were once again confronted by the other side of that story last week with the STV production Scotland’s Stories: Finding a Fix which reminds us we are still the drug death capital of Europe. The documentary portrayed a litany of powerful but also painful stories. One lady, Sharon, described the point she asked for help with her addiction and had her children taken from her. She said: “They took away the reason for me to stop using. I think they just thought I would give in and go away and die.”

The documentary reminded me how close to home this is after I saw the flower girl at my wedding on it. For many, these are our friends or neighbours, sons or daughters and, for some, it is our story. I recall the first time I went to Narcotics Anonymous some years ago. While I never got addicted to Class A drugs, I went for support and a young woman was also there for the first time. She shared how she first used heroin aged 26 to dislodge vivid memories of being raped by a paedophile at the age of four.

She was a beautiful woman, living a salubrious middle-class life with her six year old daughter but she had a shadow and her husband drew a line between the story she began to write for herself and the one they had been creating together. She went on to prostitute herself and, having not seen her for years, I fear she is one story behind the many statistics. I know change takes time and I can reconcile myself to that but I fear how many more will be slaughtered on the altar of addiction if we do nothing.