New approach to tackling drugs is urgently needed


Justina Murray says we need a new strengths-based approach to drug-related deaths

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5th July 2018 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

This year’s sharp rise in the drug-related death statistics has been widely predicted, but it is no less shocking. Some 934 drug-related deaths were recorded in Scotland in 2017. These are not just numbers, they are people, and they are people who have left behind a devastated family and community.

This year hundreds of families have lost a loved one to drug-related death – those left behind include children (of all ages), siblings, parents, grandparents, carers and other family members and friends.

Any family bereavement is devastating, but these families face the additional pressures of police and other agency involvement in investigating the death; media interest; stigma and judgement of those around them; and the anger, frustration and guilt that they have been unable to ‘save’ their loved one from drugs and prevent their premature death. Ultimately this marks the end of any hope they have that their loved one will ever recover.

There are many and complex reasons for this sharp increase in drug-related deaths but we need to start from a place where we recognise these deaths are completely preventable.

Essentially drug-related death – like alcohol-related death and suicide – is a disease of despair. We can only understand so much by looking at the type of drugs people consume and their personal characteristics. We need to shift our focus to ask why people are self-medicating their way to death, and to really understand the family and community devastation that is left behind.


Those left behind include children, siblings, parents, grandparents, carers

All too often problem drug use – and drug-related deaths – are viewed as the result of individual behaviour, as a lifestyle choice. Yet we know that people are consuming ever-more complex cocktails of drugs in an attempt to block out the reality of their lives, marked by poverty, destitution, mental health issues, trauma, family breakdown, loneliness and social isolation.

These are not lifestyle choice issues.

We need to take a completely different approach to this high risk group by focusing on the strengths and assets around them, and by pro-actively supporting people to build connections with family, friends, support services and the wider community.

We are marking the publication of the drug-related death statistics with a call to action. It is time to declare a public health emergency which will allow additional powers and resources to be focused on addressing this issue. Scotland should have a target of zero drug-related deaths and work actively towards this. A fundamental part of this involves properly recognising the role of families, including them in care and treatment, and supporting them in their own right.

Families are already saving lives every single day by keeping their loved ones connected.

Justina Murray is the chief executive at Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs