Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (Scottish Families) is marking the release of the 2020 Drug Death Statistics on 30 July 2021 by sharing the stories of three family members who are desperately trying to keep their loved ones alive, against the odds.
Rose, Abbie and Imogen [names changed] are all supported by Scottish Families’ Holding On service, which supports family members whose loved ones are at high risk of drug related death.
Their stories echo those of thousands of families across Scotland who are affected by a loved one’s drug use, including those whose loved ones have died in the past year. They show the intense and unrelenting pressure on families due to ongoing service gaps and failures, especially where there are complex drug and mental health problems. They also show how support for family members in their own right can help reduce harm and risk for everyone.
Rose came to Holding On looking for support with her son’s addiction to heroin, cocaine, crack, ‘street valium’ and methadone. Her son was being released from prison and she was worried that he would relapse. Her son did relapse and Rose gave him naloxone after she realised he was overdosing and dying.
There was a lot of worry about Rose’s mental health and she had to take time off work. She was supported to work on looking after herself and supporting her son. With our support, she was able to return to work, put boundaries in place, and follow through with the natural consequences of drug addiction. For example, Rose had to contact the police after her son was abusive towards her and her husband when they wouldn’t allow him into their home when he was under the influence.
Through the support of Holding On, Rose has been able to grow and strengthen her relationship with her son. As there has been no anger and frustration, but instead strength to make change, the relationship between her and her son is growing. Her son is now in contact with treatment services for support. And even though he is still using drugs, there are changes he has made due to Rose receiving support.
“The Holding On service is a lifeline for me and has given me the confidence and strength through some extremely difficult times. I can now cope in a more positive way for both myself and my loved one. I am able to stay calm in moments of crisis and not let situations overwhelm me. Most importantly, I accept not everything is my responsibility to fix and I know how to detach from the pain and try to encourage him to take responsibility for his own life.”
Abbie was looking for support for her son who had been using ‘street valium’, cocaine, acid and alcohol for over two years. Her son has mental health problems and can be violent, aggressive, self-harms and ‘plays’ with guns and knives. Abbie was struggling to cope with her son and was scared of him, but also scared for him as he was self-harming and spoke about killing himself.
Holding On supported Abbie to look after herself and to make a safety plan for when she does see him to make sure she was safe and could keep in touch with him. She had to take time off work for her own health. Although hard for her, Abbie made changes and sometimes has to take a break from supporting him, but is still supportive and is trying to get him support for his mental health. He has been in for treatment a few times but never long enough to get well.
Abbie has worked on looking after herself and has changed her behaviour when it comes to her son. She is back at work and is still able to support him, but from a distance as he is aggressive and violent. Her son is still using substances and is unwell, but cannot get any support with this from services at the moment.
“I felt powerless, I felt like I was drowning and suffocating in the hell of addiction. Holding On has shown me how to gain control and power over my own life and most importantly, they have given me the strength and courage to carry on. I would not be where I am today without their support.”
Imogen came to Holding On for support with her son who is using heroin, ‘street valium’, and crack. She also mentioned she was not sure what he takes and he may be using more substances. Her son was living with her at the time, and relies on her for most of his needs. Imogen also has a daughter who uses drugs but she does not live with her.
Imogen has been struggling with her own mental health because of the circumstances she was living in. Holding On supported her in knowing the risks involved with her son and daughter’s drug use and provided naloxone and how to use it if it was ever needed. Imogen has been supported to look after herself and to make changes with her son while he still lived with her, but he has since got a house and moved out. Both her son and daughter have had contact with treatment services, but seem to be ‘stuck’. Imogen has tried to change the way she is with them and encourages them to work on their drug use without judgement. She knows that it is up to them to make changes in their own lives now and to not rely on her.
“I view Holding On as a new path of enlightenment, which offers different tools to work on. It’s like breaking into new ground for me with new things to learn. I feel it gives me a feeling of fresh hope and optimism.”
Justina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families, said:
“With the announcement this week of another heartbreaking drug death toll in Scotland, we are sadly hearing the same stories about families’ desperate attempts to keep their loved ones alive. Whilst we welcome the millions of pounds of new funding to address drug harms, along with a raft of new initiatives, strategies and plans, the reality on the ground is that things still look and feel the same for families. We will only see change in the drug death figures when families tell us things have changed for the better.
For years families have been shouting about the lack of treatment and care options for their loved ones, particularly for co-existing drugs and mental health issues; judgemental services which are near impossible to access and sustain; the lack of any clear care and recovery plans; and their exclusion from key decisions alongside an assumption they will constantly step into the breach where services fail. Families are holding on to hope and holding on for change, but time has run out for too many.”