By Dave Liddell, Scottish Drugs Forum

The sheer toll of drug-related deaths is a staggering weight carried by families and communities and the wider Scottish nation. Figures released on 3rd July 2018 show 934 people died from a fatal overdose in Scotland in 2017. This is from a population of just over 5 million people so per head of population our drug related death rate is one of, if not the highest, in Europe.
 
Just over 10 000 people have now died since these figures were first issued in 1996. Last year, was a record high – and so was the year before and the year before that – in the last 10 years the annual figures have more than doubled.
 
And for each of the people died, there is a family – children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers – who are left to grieve and rebuild their lives. Last year almost a thousand people died and maybe 10 000 people have lost someone close to them... in just one year. That is a huge amount of bereavement and loss. The impact of that bereavement lasts a lifetime for those left behind. The harms to a child losing a parent, in particular are huge. It impacts on communities and on all of us.
 
In Scotland, people are more than five times more likely to die from drugs than in a road accident and yet, like road traffic accidents, these deaths are entirely preventable. We know how to prevent these deaths - and yet we don’t do all we can to do so.
 
Scotland prides itself in its sense of equality and fairness. And so we have to take a look at ourselves. There are some tough questions to be asked and some truths to be faced. Why have we not acted more swiftly to prevent these deaths and supported people to have the opportunity to improve their lives?
 
People with a drug problem can and do recover and given the opportunity to improve their lives can make drastic changes that help them, their families and communities.To allow them to do that, we have to make sure that they survive their drug problem,and this means allowing them to reduce the harms caused by drugs.
 
There are a whole range of actions that could prevent these deaths – Scotland needs to show commitment and take action now – as we have done in order to reduce deaths from car accidents. For the cost of providing an extra lane on a few hundred meters of motorway we could substantially prevent deaths from driving. Similarly, we can easily reduce the number of drug-related deaths amongst some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland and prevent families and communities suffering this loss. That means removing people from dependence on unregulated street drugs. That means making sure there is accessible high
quality healthcare and support – like the rest of us enjoy when we are ill.
 
The deaths we are grieving now are caused primarily by street drugs which are often contaminated and mixed with other drugs. The Police know they cannot arrest their way out of this situation, nor are we going to imprison the 60,000 Scots who use drugs. What we need to do is help people address the issues they have in their lives – which means being allowed to engage with health and other services they require, like everybody else.
 
A new Scottish drugs strategy is due to be announced. Imagine if it were based on the notion that people had the right to life; that we had anational strategy to prevent drug-related deaths as we currently do for deaths by suicide; imagine that we could save more than 10,000 Scots suffering a bereavement next year.We can imagine a different Scotland; that new Scotland is possible.