Record number of women dying from drug addiction

Drug gear

Support services are not tailored to offer the support women specifically need 

3rd July 2018 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Women are bearing the brunt of Scotland’s drug addiction crisis with more females killed by drugs than ever before.

Shocking new statistics from the Scottish Government drug deaths have reached a record high with a dramatic increase in the proportion of women deaths.  

The study for the Scottish Government’s Substance Use Strategy, due to be published this summer, shows that despite fewer women dying from drugs than men, the proportion of female deaths had increased.

Drug-related deaths among women rose from 19% in the years 2002-6 to 29% from 2012-16.

It follows an overall increase in drug-related deaths, with a record figure of 867 deaths recorded in 2016 which translates to an increase of 106% on the 2006 figure.

It has led both campaigners and charities to call for urgent intervention to tailor more support for women.

Researchers who compiled the Scottish Government report, recommended taking greater account of gender in drug services and putting greater focus on trauma and psychological harm, including domestic abuse.

There should be a “cross-sectoral and holistic approach”, with addicts helped with social support, housing, benefits, legal and financial advice, as well as physical and mental health.

David Liddell of the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDS) told TFN that part of the problem is that specialist drug treatment services are not supported well by wider mental health services.  

“Women who have not been able to engage with GP or mental health services can often self-medicate for anxiety and depression and this develops into a drug problem,” he said.  

“Women who have survived traumatic events in their childhood or in their adult life often, too, self-medicate. These women’s issues are substantially around mental health and they need help with their mental health as well as their drug problems.  All too often women with a drug problem are excluded from that help and so struggle to address their drug problem.”

Liddell added: “We also have to see women in terms of their wider lives. Clearly in their role as mothers some women have significant issues in engaging for help because they fear that the state may take custody of their children. Sadly this delay in seeking help can mean their situation deteriorates before services are engaged.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

“We need trauma-informed and person-centred services that offer gender-sensitive advice, support and treatment to women who have a drug problem. This may involve, in some cases, developing service specifically and only for women.” 

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs said it was time to declare a public health emergency which will allow additional powers and resources to be focused on addressing the problem. 

A spokesperson added: "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."

Andrew Horne, director of Addaction in Scotland, said it was “plainly obvious” that the current system isn’t working.  

“We want to see a change in Scotland’s drug and alcohol landscape,” he said. “We are working with the Scottish Government in developing a new bold drug and alcohol strategy to make services fit for the 2020s.”  

Public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick conceded more services now need to be tailored to support the specific needs of women.

He added: “The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland is a matter of grave concern, not least the increasing proportion of women who have died in recent years. This report give us very valuable insights into some of the factors involved, potential actions and where we need to dig deeper in order to find effective solutions.”

"If drugs didn't kill me my partner would"

Record number of women dying from drug addiction

Ten years into a violent abusive relationship Claire started to take cocaine before she ended up injecting heroin and “anything I could get my hands on.” She reckons it took her under three months to become an addict but also reckons her addiction was a necessary flight from her home life.

“I remember feeling trapped and having no way out of the relationship. Gus, my partner, told me he’d  kill me if I left. It was just me and my little girl and I feared for her. So I turned to drugs to help me cope.”

When Claire eventually fled from her partner - who was also a recovering drug addict - and sought help for her addiction, she feared meeting him at the same support services she was using.  

“I was signposted to a women’s refuge but I really needed urgent help for my addiction. The refuge was great but I got no help for my addiction and ended up misusing methadone.I couldn’t sue the addiction services in Glasgow: I genuinely feared for my
life but I was offered no alternative.”

She says that recovery is mostly a “psychological journey” and that women’s needs aren’t often met by traditional support services. “I don’t think they deal well with women who have been abused, have children and fear for their safety from abusive partners. It means they drop out the system and dive deeper into addiction.

That’s why we’re seeing higher numbers of women drug-related deaths. Women need more tailored support. They need specialist help. And it’s just not out there.” 

Claire now offers support to women who are recovering drug addicts which often just means advice and information. “Just being able to tell a woman where to get mental health support or to convince them that they won’t lose their children can be a lifesaver,” she said. “If they fear they will lose their children – which is often all they have go in this world – then they’ll refuse to seek support. 

“We need more empathetic, compassionate and understanding addiction services for women,. Their needs are very different to men and until we get that then these deaths will continue needlessly.”