Drug Deaths Are On The Increase With More Than 300 Last Year. So What Is Wrong With The Support Systems And How Can The We Cut The Number Of Deaths? Michelle Gallacher Talks To Leading Experts And A Former Addict To Find The Answers.
Addicts could be given emergency drug kits to be used to revive them if they overdose. The radical idea is being proposed in a bid to halt the rising number of drug related deaths in Scotland.
Currently being piloted in England and already hailed a success in America, the suggestion was among an array of proposals discussed at a conference in Glasgow.
More than 300 Scots died from a drugs overdose last year and the figure was an increase on the previous year despite expensive anti-drugs campaigns and a major initiative to clampdown on dealers.
So what would stop so many Scots dying unnecessarily each year?
New research unveiled yesterday showed almost 50% of addicts are with someone else when they overdose.
It also showed a startling lack of awareness among addicts about their risk of overdosing, or the importance of calling an ambulance when someone else overdoses.
The Scottish Drugs Forum has already set up a first aid programme to teach addicts and their families basics, such as how to recognise an overdose case and how to put them in the recovery position.
David Liddel, Scottish Drugs Forum director, said: "For people working in this field, the lack of knowledge among addicts isn't a surprise.
"There are many myths about what to do if someone overdoses.
"That's why teaching first aid is so important."
Shockingly, the study showed that in a fifth of overdoses an ambulance is not called ... despite other people being there at the time.
Addicts claim this reluctance to phone for help is because the police accompany ambulance crews on drugs call-outs and people fear being arrested.
In Manchester, the police stopped routinely attending ambulance call-outs. Evidence suggests this encouraged addicts to summon medical help. This is now being considered in Scotland.
In London drugs kits which include a heroin blocker called Naloxone have been given to addicts to keep them alive until ambulance crews arrive.
Professor John Strang, the director of the National Addiction Centre, King's College, London, said: "We have found the people who overdose are very often alive when the ambulance is called, but have died by the time it gets there.
"This drug would take them over that gap."
Medical opinion is divided on Naloxone, but Dr Strang insists he's discovered no side effects so far and believes emergency supplies should be given out.
However, some medics feel drug users may see it as a licence to take as much heroin as they want without risk.
David Liddel believes the best way to stop people overdosing is to stop them getting addicted in the first place.
He said: "For most addicts there is something else that has made them turn to drugs and if we can intervene early enough we can prevent this happening."
His view is backed up by recent research.
The new drugs report unveiled by Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry yesterday showed most people who die from overdoses are young men from "traumatic backgrounds".
Recent research by Glasgow University found two thirds of female drug users had suffered physical abuse and one third had suffered sexual abuse.
David said: "We may sometimes need to work with very young children to stop them going down the same road as their parents.
"There needs to be better counselling available."
David also believes much more cash needs to be invested to create better treatment programmes for addicts who decide to come off drugs.
He said: "In some places addicts struggle to get access to specialist services and only have their GP to rely on. In others they may get methadone or a detox but no counselling.
"The problems that caused them to start taking drugs are still there."
David said the Scottish Executive must also focus on getting former addicts into work or training.
He said: "These people must be given a future. If they have that, their emotional problems may not be as important, because they have something else to hold on to."
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