Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit the offices of Channel 4 television. It is a short walk from Parliament and I had been invited to attend a showing of the new Danny Boyle movie Trainspotting 2. The original Trainspotting was based in Edinburgh in the 1990’s when Scotland’s capital had earned the reputation as the heroin and AIDs capital of Europe. The gritty, hard hitting and graphic depiction of life for four young men struggling to survive was far removed from other mainstream movies of the time. At that time in Edinburgh drug injection for addicts was frowned upon and pharmacists were instructed not to sell needles. The upshot was that addicts shared needles. This simple action of attempting to stamp down on the act of taking drugs rather than addressing the issue of why so many people were injecting led to an increase of infections and deaths. And since then the situation has not improved. In 1995 Scotland’s drug deaths were recorded as 426, by 2015 there were over 700. And along with increased drug abuse there is increased crime and increased pressure on the NHS. Research involving 350 people who inject drugs in Glasgow city centre has indicated that this group costs £1.7 million pounds in Accident and Emergency costs alone, over a two year period.
Trainspotting 2 picks up 20 years after the original and, without wishing to spoil the movie for anyone, remarkably all four main protagonists are still alive. In real life many addicts have died as a result of the damage they inflicted on themselves in previous years, even if they no longer partake.
Different countries have started to adopt different strategies towards drug use. Many are adopting a more tolerant view and are looking at it as a health issue rather than a criminal one. The decriminalisation of drugs allows them to be controlled by governments and takes the power and money away from the criminals. Moves are afoot to introduce self-injection rooms in Glasgow to allow addicts to inject safely under medical supervision. They also provide additional links to counselling, housing, welfare and health. Schemes such as this already operate in Europe, Australia and Canada. The money spent on rehabilitation is far less than is currently spent on A&E.
In Inverclyde we have many self-help groups and service providers. They support users and encourage them to get free of addiction. Other organisations help to bring order to chaotic life styles and provide support pertaining to housing, food and basic necessities.
If we are to address the issue of drug and alcohol abuse we need to understand the human beings and the conditions they suffer from. Stamping down hard and locking people up has not worked, a new approach and a new attitude is required. It could provide a solution that all society would benefit from.
After the screening I walked home through the borough of Westminster with its multi million pound properties and as light rain began to get heavier, bedraggled figures huddled in doorways turning their backs on passers-by and their air of superiority.
I wonder if the two Trainspotting movies have helped to change the attitude of many folk towards drug addicts. Have they increased our capability to see human beings in crisis or do we still just see junkies, crack heads, Spud?
If you get the opportunity I would recommend you see Trainspotting 2. It shines a light on an aspect of our society that fortunately many of us will never encounter first hand and helps to remind us all that choosing life isn’t always an easy option.
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