A CALL for greater public sympathy shown to drug users has been made to begin to reduce the shocking rise in drug deaths.

A new approach from the government coupled with a radical change in public attitudes is required, according to professionals working to help people recover from addiction.

The latest drug-related deaths statistics show a record of 280 deaths in Glasgow last year.

Evening Times:

The Evening Times has called for an Emergency Drug Death Summit in Glasgow involving the UK Government, Scottish Government and City Council to hear evidence from those working in the frontline and to discuss how each can act to stop the deaths.

The record death toll has put the issue of problem drug use in the spotlight as fatalities across Scotland broke through the 1000 mark to 1187.

Turning Point provides support for recovering addicts in Glasgow as part of a wider package of services including homelessness and mental health services.

Senior staff at the charity said a shift from focusing on the drug to focusing on the person and the underlying problems is the key to getting the right support in place.

Patricia Tracey, service manager, said: “It is more helpful to see what their priorities are and what they want help with rather than what drug they are taking.

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“What is causing the most despair and try to ease some of that pain.

“These deaths are accidental so they are preventable. We can do something about them.”

The stigmatisation of drug addiction and treatments like methadone is seen as a barrier to people seeking help.

Neil Richardson, Chief Executive, said there needs to be a radical change in how we think about addiction.

He compared the public perception with that of homelessness and said people suffer stigmatisation.

Amid calls for legal changes, he said attitudes need to change.

Mr Richardson, a former Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable, said: “The legislative framework is only part of it.

“The other part, equally if not more important, is social attitudes.”

He compared those at the sharpest end of homelessness with the most problematic drug users as being similar.

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He added: “Public response around homelessness, bearing in mind many of these people are also using drugs, but the mindset is infinitely more sympathetic on the part of the public than that of problematic drug use.

“Can you imagine a sleep out, spending a freezing cold frosty night, out for problematic drug users. It’s just not going to happen.”

He said the public mindset generally is more restrictive and is part of the problem, adding the latest figures need to wake people up.

He said: “We need to do something and we need to do something different and you can’t hide in your middle-class suburban reality where drugs don’t really affect you because you are part of the solution if not the problem.”

He backed the calls for a drug consumption room but lamented the polarisation of the argument.

Mr Richardson said: “A facilitating discussion would be a good starting point. It's standing in the face of the evidence.

“This isn’t the whole answer of course not but it’s a way of getting h help to a certain group of people and prevent drug deaths.

“It’s unfortunate there’s such a black and white position.”

I took ecstasy like Prozac, admits former addict
By Rohese Devereux Taylor

WHEN Richard Watson was 18 his mother died of cancer. It was then his casual use of alcohol, cocaine and cannabis took a serious turn, plunging him into addiction for more than 20 years.

But after getting clean and sober three years ago, the 42-year-old employment leader and addiction specialist for the DWP turned his life around and now uses his experience to help others.

“There’s a fundamental lack of understanding of addiction. It wasn’t until I got to rehab that I linked my problems to not being comfortable in my own skin,” he said.

Despite losing homes, jobs and relationships, Mr Watson didn’t consider himself to be an addict. 

Even being hospitalised at the age of 19 for drug-induced psychosis because he took ecstasy “like Prozac” wasn’t a wake-up call.

“I still didn’t understand that I had an addiction problem and unfortunately nobody I spoke to at the time understood that if the root causes aren’t dealt with I’d just keep going back to the same old problem,” he said.

In 2016, after borrowing enough money to attend a private rehab, Mr Watson got clean but relapsed after 36 days. Thanks to recovery services in Glasgow, it would be the last time he used.

“I was really lucky,” he said. “I met people who had recovered and for the first time I had hope because they led by example.”