Scotland’s drug deaths: Cousin of Edinburgh addict left brain damaged and paralysed speaks out
The cousin of an Edinburgh man, who was left brain damaged and paralysed after a drug overdose just eight weeks ago, says Scotland’s “disturbing” drug deaths stats make him “sick to my stomach”.
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Darren Haston, 50, had been battling addiction for two decades when he overdosed on a cocktail of drugs, including methadone and Valium, in May 2021.
Medics working at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary managed to revive him but the near-fatal overdose has left Darren, who lives in the city centre, with brain damage and a paralysed left foot.
Now recovering at home, Darren first fell into a lifestyle of substance abuse 20 years ago, when his two brothers passed away - one from a drug overdose and the other from suicide.
For the last three years, he has attempted to recover from his addiction but has been unable to find the right help.
Darren’s cousin, Jay Haston, 43, from West Lothian is a former cocaine addict and said the damage drugs have done to his extended family lays bare the “terrible pain” behind Scotland’s drug death epidemic.
Scotland continues to have the highest drug death rate in Europe
The latest drug death figures published by National Records of Scotland on Friday showed that there were 1,339 drug deaths last year - an increase of 75 from the 1,264 recorded the previous year, and the country seeing a record number of deaths for the seventh year in a row.
It means Scotland continues to have the highest drug death rate recorded by any country in Europe. And the nation’s rate is more than three-and-a-half times that of England and Wales.
A total of 92 deaths were reported in Edinburgh in 2020 - a slight decrease from last year which recorded 96 drug-related deaths and 2018 which had 95 deaths reported.
The death rate for the city in 2020 was 17.6 per cent per 100,000 population - a figure slightly higher than deaths across NHS Lothian’s health board area which was 16.3 per cent.
Speaking to the Evening News, Mr Haston said: “I read the headlines and felt sick to my stomach, then I went and read the full report and could not believe it.
“Folk were expecting the statistics to be bad, but for it to have increased by that much is just disturbing.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘what hope is there for Darren?’.”
The facts have been out there for a long time
Responding to the statistics, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the number of lives lost is “unacceptable, each one a human tragedy".
The Scottish Government has pledged £250m over the next five years to help tackle the crisis after Ms Sturgeon previously admitted her government "took our eye off the ball" on drug deaths.
“That’s a huge understatement,” says Mr Haston, who feels “totally let down” by the government’s response.
“The facts have been out there for a long time and other countries have been successfully coping with the same issues,” he said.
“It feels like Scotland is in the dark ages.”
We can’t use money to plaster over the problem
While Mr Haston welcomes the cash increase from the Scottish Government, he said money alone will not solve the problem.
He said: “It’s good to see an increase in spending but we can’t just use money to put a plaster over the problem.”
Instead, Mr Haston advocates creating a “trauma-informed society” which he believes is key to lowering drug deaths in Scotland.
Having struggled through 20-years of addiction, Mr Haston said processing his trauma helped him understand the root cause behind his drug abuse and eventually helped him recover.
“We need to create a trauma-informed society with early intervention at its core,” he said.
“There is a mental health epidemic in Scotland causing people to self-medicate. Money is not enough to change this reality.”
Moving across the region, Midlothian has recorded its highest number of drug deaths in ten years – with six times as many men now dying from drugs related deaths compared to a decade ago. The latest figures showed 21 people losing their lives to drugs in 2020.
The number of men who died was 18 – compared to 3 in 2010 – while the number of women dying fell slightly to three last year compared to four a decade earlier.
Joint director of Midlothian Health and Social Care Partnership, Morag Barrow said: “Each one of these deaths is a tragic loss and we should never lose sight that each one is someone’s parent, child, loved one or friend.
“We’re working with partners, including people with lived and living experience, to reduce the harmful impact of long-term drug use.”
In West Lothian, there have been 32 deaths - a significant increase from the 23 recorded deaths in 2019 and the 25 deaths recorded in 2018.
In East Lothian, however, the county’s fatalities fell for the first time in three years.
East Lothian recorded 14 deaths – 11 men and three women – compared to 18 deaths in 2018 and 2019.
Both sexes saw a rise compared to 2010 figures when six men died and one woman.
Health chiefs put the decrease down to continued work to reduce harm caused by drug use and increased funding in services.
A spokesperson for East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership said: “The partnership has taken and will continue to take a number of measures to tackle the harms caused by the use of drugs including increasing the amount of funding for East Lothian services, increased access to and coverage of Naloxone and sustained investment in peer support and nurse working in primary care.
“Through the pandemic, services provided assertive outreach and access to treatment.”
Heroin/morphine was believed to have been implicated in 45 per cent of the total number of Scottish drug - related deaths in 2020. However, in Lothian this was significantly lower with heroin/morphine implicated in only 28 per cent of its drug-related deaths (44 out of 159).
Lothian had the highest recorded use of prescribable’ benzodiazepines with 42 per cent, compared to the national average of 16 per cent.