In “Trainspotting” Country, Overdose Deaths Smash Records

Two drug addicts prepare to inject cocaine in a wooded area near the center of Glasgow, Scotland, on 15 August 2019 afp_tickers

This content was published on 03 September 2019 – 08:00


Gary Kelly and Bruce Munro were lucky. In detoxification, they survived the epidemic that has placed Scotland at the head of the European Union in terms of overdose death rate.

“I would die if I left here too soon,” Gary, 46, a bricklayer and father of two, told AFP at the Glasgow clinic funded by local authorities that treats his addiction to alcohol, cocaine and opioids.

Munro, 45, a father of two, became a heroin addict while serving ten years in prison for armed robbery. Homeless when he was released and dependent on other drugs, he says he nearly succumbed to an overdose several times and knows a dozen people who died from it last year.

“They had hit rock bottom, they asked for help but it didn’t come on time,” he says in the detox center room.

After years of austerity and cuts in social budgets, added to the low prices of new drug cocktails, Munro thinks that the worst has not yet come: “There will still be many deaths,” he warns grimly.

– Worst in Europe –

Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, is the epicenter of a crisis that left 1,187 drug-related deaths in the region last year in a nation of 5.4 million people. Figures for England and Wales released this month also break records.

In Scotland, which has one of the worst statistics in Europe, deaths more than doubled in four years and rival those in the United States, where President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

The Scottish crisis hit the international stage in 1996 with Danny Boyle’s film “Trainspotting”, set in Edinburgh. More than 20 years later, overdose deaths are linked to this “Trainspotting generation,” which began using heroin in the 1980s and 1990s.

“They are in such poor health that if they continue to consume a good portion of it, they will end up dying from it,” says David Brockett, a manager at Phoenix Futures, the charity that runs the clinic.

– “Anything” –

According to annual statistics published in July, the vast majority of deaths were due to the use of various substances. Heroin and synthetic opioids such as methadone, codeine, and oxycodone were present in 86% of deaths in 2018.

Benzodiazepines, nicknamed “street valium,” or “benzos,” sold for 15 pence a pill, were found in two-thirds of the cases.

Not counting cocaine, which Glasgow users inject in small amounts for immediate effect, compounding the risks of fatal overdose and contaminated syringes.

Cocaine-related deaths have risen 658% since 2008, more than any other drug, paralleling the worst AIDS epidemic in decades, with 156 new cases since 2015.

Jim Thomson, a former drug addict employed by the NGO Simon Community Scotland, explains that drug addicts mix methadone, heroin, benzos and cocaine.

“They consume anything to feel nothing more,” he says, while distributing sterile syringes to drug addicts who beg.

– Radical approach –

The austerity applied by successive conservative governments is often criticized.

David Brockett points out that the number of beds in detox centers has fallen in recent years, while Phoenix Futures’ six-month program has been reduced to 13 weeks due to lack of money.

Stunned by the latest statistics, the Scottish government, which monitors health and social services, created a task force to find solutions.

Those in charge of Glasgow are opening a pioneering treatment center where medical-grade heroin will be administered under strict control. “This kind of courageous and innovative treatment is essential to reduce the number of deaths,” explains Mhairi Hunter, counselor in charge of health.

Others want to go further: “It is necessary to decriminalize drug use,” says Roseanne McLuskie, head of Addaction, an NGO that helps some 600 drug addicts in Glasgow in matters ranging from accommodation to mental health problems.

For his colleague Luise Stewart, “sometimes we have the impression of carrying out a losing battle beforehand. But there are so many people who come out ahead in Glasgow. And for every sad story, there is also a positive one.”

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In “Trainspotting” Country, Overdose Deaths Smash Records

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