IN my student days I walked the length and breadth of Washington DC, miles from the Howard University Campus, looking for thrift shops and old record stores hunting for what George Smiley called “treasure”.

He was looking for Soviet spies. I was looking for rare soul music.

It would not be too extreme to say I fell in love with DC and I have harboured a substantial grudge over decades about how poorly the district has been represented on television.

Nearby Baltimore was brilliantly ­portrayed in the criminal complexities of The Wire, Miami has been the backdrop to glamorous criminality in Miami Vice and New York City has been ever present on our screens from Superfly to NYPD Blue.

God, even Glasgow has Taggart and Edinburgh has Rebus, but look beyond the books of George Pelecanos and you will struggle to find the real DC on screen.

One of the burdens DC endures is that the TV dramas set there focus on the square miles in and around the White House – The West Wing, House of Cards, ­Designated Survivor – you could while away a lifetime watching these ­dramas and never get a glimpse of the real ­Washington.

READ MORE: Peter Krykant: Will Scotland's next first minister lower our shameful drug death rates?

Washington DC is a thriving multi-ethnic city from the Ethiopian communities of Adams Morgan down to the forgotten ghettoes of the South East.

You would not know from West Wing fictions but for the vast majority of the 20th century, DC has been a majority African-American city.

Last week, I watched Painkiller on ­Netflix and for a brief moment I was given a rare glimpse of the Washington I once knew by heart.

An overweight data analyst called Edie Flowers, played to award-winning ­perfection by Uzo Aduba, returns to her ghetto home as the pulsating sound of Blow Your Whistle by local funk band The Soul Searchers powers the scene.

It is needle-point accuracy by the ­music ­researchers – The Soul Searchers and their indomitable leader Chuck Brown ­invented the Washington Go-Go sound as the rest of urban America fixated on ­hip-hop. This was the city’s anthem.

Aduba as investigator Flowers is the moral heart of the show. She is burnt out, lonely and angry. Unusually for an ­American drama there is no love interest, no errant child and no domestic story-telling.

The National:

Setbacks at work have made her ­contemptuous of the corporate lawyers who put a well-dressed protective ring around Big Pharma.

Painkiller is a simple morality tale. It tells the story of the opioid epidemic in America and the role Big Pharma execs played in the crisis, green-lighting the ­release of a painkiller called OxyContin, despite knowing how addictive it was.

Flowers is working largely unnoticed with a US attorney’s office in Virginia. She stretches her search for the power behind the opioid epidemic from the ­ghettoes of DC to the rural, working class and economically deprived ­communities off Route 58 in southern Virginia. ­

“People,” as Flowers puts it, “in pain and with no option but to get better”.

What is narcotic about Netflix is the way it hints outwards to other ­major shows on its network. Flowers is ­remarkably similar in stature and ­emotional ­fragility to the tough but troubled Professor ­Annalise Keating of How To Get Away With Murder and even Michelle Obama in The First Lady.

Both shows star ­Viola Davis, the ­go-to superstar of diversity casting and the woman who has done more than anyone to open Hollywood up to older African-American talent.

Cleverly, each of the hour-long ­episodes opens with a non-actor ­explaining the ­series is based on real events with ­dramatised elements. “But what is not ­fictionalised is my story,” they add, ­sharing memories and photos of loved ones killed by opioids. It is, according to a Hollywood Reporter review, “as subtle as a gut punch, and about as effective”.

The families that contribute to ­endorsing the series are a reminder of the forgotten victims of drug abuse, which brings us full circle to Scotland and our own opioid epidemic.

In 2018, Scotland witnessed 1187 drug-related deaths. These preventable deaths are each individual tragedies that have a lasting effect on families, friends and communities. What is equally revealing is how little our national media capture the complexity of these deaths.

READ MORE: Scottish Tories 'inflaming drugs debate with false information'

In Scotland, the substance most commonly implicated in deaths in 2018 was the “street” benzodiazepine etizolam (49%) and various opioids were implicated in 77% of deaths.

Much as Trainspotting still stands out as a unique innovation in Scottish ­popular culture, it has not become a ­blueprint for wider innovation. There was in many respects a retreat back into ­familiar ­storylines and types, many of them tangled with the returning ­storylines of crime drama.

The drug debate is not helped by ­endless chastising, nor the sinister Mr Big, nor the pitiful addict and noble ­parents ­battling inexplicable forces. We have seen it all to no great outcome, either politically or creatively.

As I watched Flowers, played thoughtfully by Aduba, I was taken by the ­underlying similarities with the Scottish activist Peter Krykant. On a superficial level, they could not be more unalike.

An African-American woman grieving the loss of her mother to opioid addiction while her community crumbles, and a white male who in 2020 started an ­unsanctioned overdose prevention site – literally a drug consumption room – out of a minibus and later a converted ­ambulance in Glasgow’s city centre. They are both compelling characters on a mission.

READ MORE: Study reveals how Unionist tactical voting has impacted Holyrood 

At a recent European addiction conference, Krykant narrated his own ­story: “When I was six my teacher wrote I was unhappy and needed to mature,” he told his audience. “At 16 I was locked up in psychiatric hospital, by 19 after time in young offenders’ prison I was living on the streets dependent on heroin. Now at 46, a father, a partner, an employee, my goal is showing punishment doesn’t work.

“My problem was never really drugs,” Krykant argues, “it was societal and drug prohibition just pushed me into more dangerous situations.

“The answers now seem simple – if people are sleeping on the street they need housing, if people are ­using street drugs, they need safe supply.”

It is a message so powerful in its ­simplicity it is a national embarrassment that Krykant has had to fight so persistently for recognition from politicians, medical professions and the news media who regularly deepen the problem by using over-dramatic and stigmatising language.

It is strange that his story has yet to be dramatised too and that he lives in a country that needs permission from elsewhere to bring his ideas into action. He is in many respects the missing character from Netflix’s Painkiller.

Painkiller is a drama that doesn’t need to travel much beyond Virginia and the ignored projects of Washington DC so Scotland is irrelevant.

But the story is already here and with ­lethal impact. Nor has there been any shortage of new synthetic drugs to ­replace OxyContin. Fentanyl, Etizolam, Xanax and any number of hybrids from street laboratories or from the flourishing ­Chinese pharmaceutical industry have flooded the illegal market at home and abroad.

I am not claiming Painkiller is the ­greatest show on television but watch it and think of Scotland. It will make you angry and sad in equal measure.

Painkiller can be streamed on Netflix now