Dundee is the drug death capital of Europe and across the city, many are struggling to cope with drug dependency. But behind each statistic is a face, a name, a family and a story. One local man shares his experience.
Across Tayside, people are trying to cope with the struggles, worries and dangers of substance use.
The ripple effect of drug dependence means not only is the individual affected, but also their family, friends and loved ones, too.
Neil from Dundee previously struggled with addiction issues and would like to see more be done to support those in recovery and their families.
Neil is speaking after a new report revealed each person using alcohol or drugs was harming, on average, 11 other people around them.
‘My child was taken into care and I decided to seek help for my addiction
Neil says: “I struggled with addiction issues for a number of years and then I got involved in selling drugs to sustain my heroin addiction.
“This all culminated in a visit to the High Court in Glasgow.
“My child was taken into care and from there I decided that was the end of it. I ended up in a homeless unit and decided to seek help for my addiction.”
The ‘Ask the Family!’ report, launched by a partnership of Scottish family support organisations, also found families of those misusing alcohol and drugs are waiting, on average, eight years for support from specialist services.
It's here! After our amazing launch this morning, we're proud to present our Ask The Family! project with @actnforchildren @CircleScot @FamilySouthLan! Follow the link to read the report, view the survey & go through our virtual exhibition https://t.co/n747CSi8G4
— Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs (@ScotFamADrugs) June 10, 2021
Neil continues: “When addiction takes hold of you, the last thing you’re looking at is family and friends.
“You’re effectively numb. That’s generally the point in heroin: to get numb and not pay any attention or have any interest in friends and family around you.
“Your only real thought is where the next £15 is coming from. You have no thought of the impact on anybody apart from what you’re trying to find.
“In my case, social work stepped in and my child was in care. Myself and my partner didn’t really engage with them at first.
“Then my partner was jailed for three years and I worked with social work to get my child back.
“My child was my motivation for getting help, without a doubt. There was no other reason for it.”
Neil has turned his experiences into a positive: he now works for the Salvation Army as a drugs worker, helping people still experiencing drug dependence as they go through their own recovery and rehabilitation.
He explains: “I’m seeing it from the other side now. I think it’s shocking there are so many people sitting in homeless units with no access to mental health support, because that is the main cause of most of their problems.”
Neil now gets overnight visits with his child.
“My new job couldn’t be any better. I’m helping run the drugs, alcohol and behaviours programme and I also take people out to do activities,” he says.
“I’ve now achieved what I set out to do.”
We need to stop using words like junkie and increasing the stigma – many people with drug-related issues are dealing with trauma
There is still a stigma surrounding drug and alcohol addictions, which can prevent people who use drugs and their families from seeking support.
Neil says: “If more money was put into mental health services, the issues would reduce as I think it is mental health issues that cause a lot of these problems.
“A high percentage of people dealing with drug-related issues are those with mental health issues or people who have dealt with trauma as a youngster.
“It’s counselling that’s needed, but there’s nothing for them to access.
“There is a huge stigma, especially around heroin. I’d like to see people refraining from using derogatory words like ‘junkie’ as it increases the stigma.
“Most people don’t see the underlying issue – which 99% of the time is there.”
Liam McGinlay is practice team leader of Action for Children’s Dundee Families Service. He agrees much more needs to be done to reduce the ever-present stigma surrounding drug and alcohol misuse.
‘We need to start understanding, this is an illness’
He says: “There needs to be a radical shift in how we as a society view those using drugs and alcohol. It needs to become under the umbrella of a medical issue – it’s an illness.
“At Action for Children, it’s core to the work that we do, ensuring that we’re working with people compassionately with no judgement.
“But across the board, we still have a way to go and we need to understand that for many people this isn’t a choice, but a result of what’s happened to them.
“In terms of wider society, there’s still a lot of work to be done to try and remove that stigma.”
Action for Children