Families have the answers to Scotland’s drug deaths crisis

The latest annual drug-related death statistics have been published in Scotland. 1,051 deaths are registered, meaning 1,051 families are grieving as a result of this. Until we reach our target of zero drug deaths, we will continue to campaign alongside families who have lost loved ones and those who are fighting every day to keep their loved ones alive.

We know that families have the answers to Scotland’s drug deaths crisis – but they need to be heard, and for change to happen as a result. We need to Just Ask Families.

Every day, families are struggling to access the treatment, care and support their loved ones desperately need; they are blamed, and judged by others; and their own rights as family members and carers are not recognised. Their complaints about access, choice and quality of treatment services are ignored, and they are actively excluded from their loved one’s care planning and from services’ decisions which affect the whole family. Bereaved families are not invited to take part in formal service reviews which follow every drug death, so their valuable insight and lessons which could be learned are lost.

We asked family members to share their thoughts on what is going on in their lives, and the changes they want to see. All of these families have been harmed by Scotland’s drug deaths crisis. They have shared heartbreaking notes about their own grief and loss; practical and straightforward recommendations for treatment services which will save lives; the importance of hope for whole families; the impact of stigma; and their frustration about the slow pace of change:

‘They die in your heart so many times.’

‘It is about always feeling the void – that gap in your life.’

‘Recovery and substance use support services need to be revised – if the person is stable and getting a prescription, they see their worker less often. If you use, they see you every week to get a swab off you. This seems the wrong way round.’

‘Engaging with social services was very difficult – they were so judgemental.’

‘Recovery support services do not willingly provide information to family members, and they need to engage more with families.’

‘It seems that there are lots of different agencies and organisations all in competition for funding and not working together or sharing information.’

‘The media need to change on how they report on drug issues; it is always pictures of needles and dirty alleyways. Why do they portray drug use as being about social class when in reality it can affect anyone of any class or background?’

‘I can feel overwhelmed when I see statistics, it can make me feel hopeless. They are of course impersonal and each addict and family have individual circumstances.’

‘Why is there still no change? WHY? DOES ANYONE CARE?’

‘Families are a key part of the solution and they should be involved in conversations.’

‘You have hope, but you keep it in your pocket and only take it out sometimes to look at it and remind yourself.’

Justina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families, said:

“Families affected by a loved one’s drug use understand more than anyone else what needs to change to tackle Scotland’s ongoing drug deaths crisis. Whether they have lost a loved one, or are battling every day to keep their loved one alive in the most trying of circumstances, families need to be part of the solution.

Every year on this day, there is quite rightly an outpouring of sympathy and condolence for the families left behind. But the same families are not asked to take part in formal drug death reviews to share their insight into what has gone wrong and what needs to change. Families’ complaints about treatment services are ignored, and when they advocate for their loved ones, they are seen as awkward and interfering. Families want their rights as carers to be upheld; their expertise to be recognised; and for real change to happen.

We need to recognise that families have the answers to Scotland’s drug deaths crisis, to hear what they are saying, and to see real change as a result.”

You can see all of the thoughts from families here.

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