IN Scotland, the latest 27% increase in drug-related deaths should not be a surprise to anybody. They have risen every year. Most of my friends I was in care with are dead, and the ones who aren’t are on their way out because their bodies have been wrecked by intravenous drug use.

My first experience of medication came at the tender age of nine, when the doctor gave my mum a drug (Diazepam) – ironically dubbed mother’s little helper. Not long after that I entered the care system and six years, 38 care placements and numerous secure orders later, I was released to go to Edinburgh council to declare myself homeless. From that moment on all I wanted to do was take and sell drugs.

I did not know anything about the underlying trauma that my addiction masked, nor that my decisions were based on fear. Such is the power of addiction. What I did know at 16 was I could go to Muirhouse doctor’s surgery, get a prescription for tranquillisers and suddenly I had drugs to sell. I could get disability living allowance. I thought the good times had arrived but that novelty didn’t last. I used to slag junkies but I was becoming just like them.

Like all my friends, I expected to go to prison. Although I was prepared for a life in and out of prison, I was still very scared of what to expect. Would it be the same as the secure units affectionately known as baby jail back then?When I did eventually go, I knew so many folk from the same care system that I had come from, the guys I grew up with on the various estates in Edinburgh.

Back then, addicts could die in the jail through withdrawal symptoms. Jails really didn’t know how to deal with that crisis. Folk would come in with an opiate tolerance that would decrease while in custody, then they would get released and get the exact same prescription and overdose because their tolerance had decreased.

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The men and women who feature in the latest statistics for drug deaths did not start out as addicts. They started out as children and many came from families who broke down. Again like me, they went on to go through the care system, join the homeless population and to live chaotic lives.

When we seek treatment, it doesn’t acknowledge that our shared experiences mask different reasons why we started taking drugs. Our treatment centres use abstinence-based programmes and they haven shockingly long waiting times for places. Not surprisingly, they have low success rates.

Some treatment centres use the 12-step programme, which suggests that addiction is something we were born with. Other research puts it down to our childhood experiences.

Other treatments have grown exponentially in the past 10 years, and have been successful in arresting the effects of addiction and using the 12-step approach to get people back on track in life. Advocates include Russell Brand and Gabor Mate, but by their own admission, the 12 step programme wasn’t designed for underlying childhood traumatic experiences. In my opinion it’s why we should not just be using this model.

In addition, I also hear the need for drug consumption rooms and I agree they are needed. But 47% of drug deaths came through methadone overdose, so consumption rooms would not have helped them.

I believe our services should be completely revamped so they reflect the needs of the user, not those of the dreaded middle-class middle-aged white men who write the policy and legislation.

I believe the answers are: decriminalisation and regulation of all drugs, starting with cannabis, drug consumption rooms for the chaotic user, a commitment to take methadone away as a treatment for addiction, an increase in services that are peer-led, an increase in funding to our mental health services so diagnoses can be done earlier, and a commitment from further education bodies to play a greater role in helping those who are getting their lives back on track such as peer mentors in college. 

READ MORE: Consumption rooms alone won’t fix Scotland’s drug death problem

The entire third sector is given a lot of money to tackle this problem, but there needs to be a change in attitude and culture so that the services better represent the complex needs of individual addicts.

Could you imagine, for instance, a mental health service in somewhere like Muirhouse operated from 3pm till 10pm where it identified the trauma and its impact on the family? It could start a healing process where counsellors, drug workers and social workers did not have such demanding case loads and could actually spend time to care, listen and talk rather than prescribe drugs; where meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and mindfulness were the norm.

A combination of decriminalisation and this approach would encourage people to feel valued, loved and cared for. Only then will we see a significant drop in the number of drug deaths in Scotland.