“We took our eye off the ball”.

That was the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s response to the relentless rise in drug related deaths in Scotland over the last decade.

A rise of such shockingly high proportions that Scotland is believed by experts to have the worst record in the world in this area.

A very big ball to miss.

Glasgow Times:

Whenever there is an inkling of evidence that Scotland is doing better than other parts of the UK, never mind the world, then the success is shouted from the highest hill.

On this issue, for more than a decade, it has in comparison been ignored.

In recent years we have heard the excuse that the majority of those dying are part of an ageing cohort of drug users who started using drugs in the 1980s. That may have an element of truth about it but it is not an excuse for not taking action.

It is also not entirely accurate.

Many of the people who have been dying, particularly in the last few years, have been under 35. Most of these people were not born when the much talked about ‘ageing cohort’ the fabled ‘trainspotting generation’ first put a needle in a vein.

The latest figures, for 2019, showed there were 215 people aged 25 to 34 who died that year.

There were also 76 under 25s who died that year.

It is not new. Since 2007 when the SNP first formed a government there have been 2328 people aged between 25 and 34 who have died in a drug related death and 750 aged 15 to 24.

That’s more than 3000 people who were either not born or barely able to read when Irvine Welsh penned the seminal novel.

Glasgow Times:

If someone was looking as closely at these figures over the years, as closely as they were on some other issues, then the only conclusion is that urgent action was needed.

In 2016 the Scottish Government cut the budget for drug and alcohol partnerships from £62.9m to £53.8m.

In 2015, the latest figures that were available then, saw an increase in drug deaths of 15% from 613 to 706.

Who looked at the drug death figures in 2015 and saw so many people had died, noted the upward trend, and decided it was a good idea to cut the budget for alcohol and drug partnerships by 25%?

That is not taking your “eye of the ball” that is confiscating the ball and bursting it with a big kitchen knife before kicking back over the garden fence.

A statement like “we took our eye of the ball” leads to people, for who this ball has been their whole world, to see it as confirmation of what they have believed for a long time.

That they simply do not matter enough.

There are too many people in this city whose whole adult lives have been defined by drugs.

They maybe started taking them in their teens and got into difficulties in their early 20s and by the time they are in their late 20s and early 30s there are in complete crisis.

Thousands of men and women. Hundreds of children taken from their mothers into care or looked after by grandparents.

There are thousands of people who are still struggling with repeated attempts at recovery and there are many people who have successfully sustained their recovery and who are now using their experience to try and help others.

They are however, fighting with one hand tied behind their back.

Eyes have been taken of the ball in this game, (and it is not a game, by the way) to the extent that it is now very difficult to see the ball with the number of dead bodies on the pitch.

Drugs use, addiction and premature deaths came to be an accepted part of life. It was seen as a legacy of the de-industrialisation of the 1980s and 1990s.

Glasgow Times:

It can look like it was thought, that if we wait long enough all these men and women will die and the numbers will go down again.

The last five years have shown that has not happened and we have another huge wave of addiction washing over communities.

It is happening in the younger age groups. Multiple drug and alcohol use is rife in those in their late teens and early 20’s.

Now, with an extra £250 million over five years to be put into tackling this, there are concerns among many in the grassroots organisations that mistakes of the past will be repeated.

The only difference is more money will be spent on them.

For years people were put on methadone programmes, which let people addicted.

Not enough has been spent on getting people off drugs permanently.

I have sat through meetings in community centres and listened where people have recounted their own experience of sinking deep into addiction and then the long climb out. Many are helping others take on that climb.

They have added professional learning to personal experience .

They have the experience and the understanding that you cannot get from reading books and doing research alone.

They are the best tool we have in trying to help other people.

If we really want to achieve our goals in this field, then we should pass the ball to them.

Who has the courage to make that pass?