By Cara Sulieman
A MASSIVE hike in the number of drugs related deaths across Scotland is being blamed on the nation’s Trainspotting generation – addicts who began shooting up in the 80’s.
Shock new figures showed a rise of people in their late 30s to early 40s – mostly men – dying from the effects of years of drug use and a lack of support services for their age group.
In all drug deaths rose 26 per cent to 576.
As with previous years, the vast majority of drug users dying are men – an overwhelming 80 per cent.
But it was the rise in the number of deaths in the older age categories that is causing the greatest alarm for the National Drug Related Death Forum who unveiled the dramatic new figures yesterday.
The showed that deaths of those aged 35 – 44 rose 17 per cent to 174.
And more shockingly, the number for those 45 and over rose a staggering 54 per cent last year to 97.
These are compared to the far slower rise for younger age groups.
The Scottish Drugs Forum put the surge down to a number of factors, but said that Scotland was dealing with a legacy reaching back to the late 70s and 1980s when these people started using drugs for the first time.
Long-term Heroin use
Biba Brand, from the charity said: “It is difficult to tell why older drug users are increasingly featuring among the drug death statistics.
“However, many will have been using drugs – primarily heroin – for a long time.
“Their physical health will have deteriorated and many will have become increasingly socially isolated over the years, which could make them more vulnerable to accidental or deliberate overdose.
“In addition, older drug users not in treatment services can lose hope about their chances of overcoming their drug problem and living a normal life.”
She went on to say that the Scottish Government will need to look at more ways to improve the services for older generations, who are more likely to drop out of treatment programmes.
She said: “We may need to start looking at separate groups for older drug users, rather than a different service altogether. They have very different needs and reasons for using drugs than they younger generations.”
And Dr Roy Robertson, the chairman of the National Drug Related Death Forum and a GP, said that the older generations are using drugs in a very different way to the younger.
He said: “All these people that came into drug use in the late 70s and 80s have an increased risk of dying.
“For many of these older drug users they are not obviously reckless like the younger generations. They are injecting less and have left the reckless drug use in the past.
“But their risk comes from other areas. They are more likely to drop out of treatment and may have other conditions chronic conditions like Hepatitis C.
“We are seeing an increase in people with the damaging effects of other drugs like cigarettes and alcohol.
“They may also have been through tragic events like the death of a family member or social isolation after being cut off from their family.
“Younger drug users are less likely to have gone through events such as these.”
Dr Robertson went on to say that it must be remembered that behind the statistics there are real people with real families.
He said: “Any rise in figures is bad news, but we must remember that each one is a tragedy.
“Many of us involved in drug services are used to managing families, speaking to siblings and parents, and it is a very sad thing to have to do.
“We would like to be able to do something to prevent it.”
And this is a sentiment that is echoed by Fergus Ewing, the Minister for Community Safety.
He said: “These figures demonstrate the real impact of drug misuse which extends far beyond the individual drug user – it destroys lives.
“Nothing can ever replace the loss of a loved one.
“As a legacy of long-term drug misuse over recent decades, drug-related deaths may continue to rise over the next few years, especially among older men, which is exactly why we have put in place a strategy to turn the situation around.
“It’s a long-term problem with no single solution. That is why we must continue to take action to tackle this issue now and for the long-term.”
The Scottish Conservative Leader, Annabel Goldie, said that a change was needed in the way drug addiction is dealt with in Scotland.
She said: “These awful figures are proof of the tragic consequences of Scotland’s drugs epidemic.
“Each death represents not just a life needlessly lost, but a family devastated and a community scarred. These wasted lives are the consequence of a wasted decade.
“At last the Scottish Conservatives’ call for a fresh approach is being listened to.
“We are determined to make the difference. It may take a generation to make a lasting change but this new political will must not be ignored.”
But Ross Finnie, the health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that the focus should be on the role played by alcohol in drug related deaths.
He said: “These figures reveal the extent of Scotland’s drug shame. The Scottish Government needs to take action to cut the rocketing number of drug deaths.
“Ministers need to act particularly on two key areas highlighted by the figures. First, men are more likely to die from drug abuse and, second, alcohol was involved in almost half of last year’s drug deaths.”
Trainspotting, a best-selling novel by Scots author Irvine Welsh later turned into a hit film, was set in the 1980’s when Scotland’s heroin use exploded among a generation of young people.