1,187 Lives Lost: How Do We Create Change?

Our communities reel at the latest drug-related death figures: 1,187 lives lost! This number is already 6 months out of date and doesn’t represent the further massive increase in deaths that we have all seen so far this year.

What Do We Know?

Last year we lost 11 of the people we support and our staff have had to endure another 10 losses in 2019, a trend that suggests we will be looking at an increase of 100% over the course of this year. This is a new tragedy within homelessness. We need to add together the previous three/four years of stats to get anything close to that level of lives lost. Alongside this, the rate of overdose intervention, which has also increased over 100%, is increasing parallel to the stats on deaths. This 100% represents a further 77 lives potentially saved (as of today) by staff who are there to intervene with Naloxone (where they believe that opioids are involved). Sadly we already know that in too many cases the greatest risk comes from combining drugs and so called “street valium”, that is dirt-cheap and highly risky as it continually changes in terms of content and potency.

Why We Need to Act NOW

It has sadly become the norm for people to experience and witness repeated overdose and death. Collectively, we no longer react in any way that considers these deaths preventable. We too often forget that those around each loss of life needs support and intervention. We need to recognise the absolute devastation these deaths cause to families, friends and staff. We need to not accept the normalisation of a preventable loss of any life and we need to not accept that our systems and policies make it increasingly difficult for people to access treatment and recovery options. 

Seeing loved ones, fellow service users and friends die, along with encountering only barriers and exclusion in trying to access support and care, only serves to deepen the pervading hopelessness and worthlessness that will have initially led them to addiction.

What Role Does Poverty and Trauma Play?

Unfortunately, the individuals we all support will have experienced poverty and/or trauma in early life. Our ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) aware nation may well prevent the tragedies of the future but we need much more understanding for those whose childhoods are already lost to trauma. To those who find themselves coping with their trauma through addiction and risk. To those who see no hope for a different future.

What Do We Need?

Safe Places

We need more safe places for people to go to. They need to safely access the drugs that have a stranglehold on them and their lives. They need to feel some care, compassion and ultimately something to drive a change inside of them that will tackle the pervading hopelessness that keeps them asking themselves ‘will today be the day I die?’.

We fully support the idea of a safer consumption room in Glasgow but people will not go there to swallow 40 street valium. We need a much broader and more meaningful response. We need big action that strengthens and grows the message that addiction is entirely a health-based concern that needs health-focused solutions but we also need to empower, enable and resource the small actions that can be the greatest catalyst for change.

Better Equipped Staff

Frontline staff need to be equipped to identify, respond and intervene at times of greatest risk, but, they also need more on the spot access to vital health and care resources at the right time and in the right way for each person they engage. We welcome the recognition that we have a public health emergency right now, right here in Scotland,  but we need the new Drug Deaths Taskforce to quickly drive change and action to try and reverse the terrifying increases we alone at Simon Community Scotland have seen this year.

What Now…?

Although we’d love one, there is no silver bullet. We must go person by person, community by community to tackle the hopelessness that grips those who need our help the most. We need to help in ways that say, “your life matters and your future can be different”. 

-Lorraine McGrath, CEO of Simon Community Scotland