A RISE in the number of people dying through drug abuse in Moray has led to a call for users to actively seek help.
Figures have revealed that illegal substances have contributed to four deaths in the area in just five months.
Specialists described the local picture as ‘increasingly worrying’.
Moray Alcohol and Drug Partnership’s (MADP) service manager, drug and alcohol services, John Campbell, said a range of factors – from the availability, source and purity of supply to difficult economic times – could be behind the tragic increase.
“It is very worrying; just one death is worrying,” he said. “But if you look at the figures for 2009-2010, we had three deaths in 2009 and two in 2010. If you look back further than that, you are looking at thatbeing about the average.
“In 2011, we went up to eight drug- related deaths in Moray and we are sitting at four in 2012 and we are only just finished May; that is increasingly worrying.”
In the 12 months to the end of March 2012, the service had 455 registered users – 229 being given support for drug-related issues and 226 for alcohol abuse.
Fluctuations in the production of illegal opiates in Afghanistan – the world’s leading supplier – have a direct impact on availability on Moray’s streets.
“What we are finding is that there are more drugs coming in from Eastern European countries, which again can change what is actually in the drug,” Mr Campbell said.
“The other major thing is that the purity levels of morphine found in Scotland in the last two years has decreased significantly. I think they were reporting a purity level of 29% in 2010 and that was reduced to 7% in 2011.??
That decrease was associated with a spike in drug-related deaths last year, with users seeking new supply routes, substantially increasing the risk of overdose due to their then significantly reduced tolerance levels.
“What we’ve also found, and this will link to increased risk as well, is that when there is a shortage of drugs and purity levels are low, people will go looking for something else and we are finding that there is an increase in the use of benzodiazepine type drugs and alcohol as well.
“You get into the habit of poly drug use – which is using more than one drug and on top of that using alcohol – and you are in considerable risk,” Mr Campbell said.
Compounding the problem is that dealers are increasingly unscrupulous as to which cutting agents they use to increase bulk and weight.
While Moray has the lowest prevalence rates for drug use in mainland Scotland, Mr Campbell admitted the figures caused grave concern.
The partnership – made up of a number of agencies – receives £590,000 in public funds to combat substance misuse across the area, bolstered by resources from partner organisations.
Together, they focus on law enforcement, education, and prevention. But there is also a strong drive towards rehabilitation.
“We are working hard on what we can do – how we can go the extra mile – to help someone recover. We do believe that people can and do recover from drug use so we are working with all services to try and increase the opportunities for people to engage in a pathway to recovery,” said Mr Campbell.
Through the Scottish Drugs Recovery Consortium, recovered drug addicts are working with users in the local area.
And Studio 8, at 73 High Street, Elgin, enables anyone who wants help – be it for alcohol or drugs – to walk off the street into a warm, friendly environment.
Assessments are completed within 72 hours, with suitable help identified, advice given, and referrals made.
In 100% of cases, service users received a treatment within five weeks of referral; staff are now aiming for a three-week target.
“We are not sitting with a waiting list, which means people are accessing services as quickly as possible and quicker than ever before,” Mr Campbell added.
Training in Naloxone – a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose – is also being delivered to users, family, carers and friends of addicts.
“Everyone has to go through appropriate training and it is very tightly monitored.
“However, what we have found is that if someone does overdose then there is a chance that if they are using with someone else, or if family and friends are around, then hopefully by administering Naloxone, it will be the difference between life and death until paramedics arrive and deal with the situation.
“Over the last few weeks, we have increased the amount of front-line staff who can deliver training on overdose prevention and take home Naloxone and would encourage users, family, carers and friends to engage in this training in order that we can further save lives,” said Mr Campbell.
Of failings in the service, families of those with a substance misuse problem have said they want to play a bigger role in the solution.
Ways of better incorporating them into the process are now being looked at.
Alcohol remains the ‘biggest drug of choice’ in Moray, however.
“That is something we are working on. That has an impact on not only drug and alcohol services, but also primary and acute care, the police and fire and rescue service and many more of the partner agencies. The weekend is no longer just a Friday and Saturday night and the effects of alcohol are far ranging,” Mr Campbell said.
With high youth unemployment coupled with the economic downturn, challenging times lie ahead for the partner agencies, made up of: Moray Council, Grampian Police, Moray Community Health and Social Care Partnership, NHS Grampian, Scottish Prison Service, Community Safety Partnership, Moray Council on Addictions, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Scottish Drug Forum, Service User Representatives, Turning Point Scotland (Studio 8), NESCPC (North East of Scotland Child Protection Committee), Moray Voluntary Service Organisation, Aberlour Childcare Trust, STRADA (Scottish Training on Drugs and Alcohol), SAADAT (Scottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Teams), Learning Network North, and Quarriers Carer Support Service.
“People use alcohol and drugs to hide, or mask other problems. So if people are finding it difficult, then it is more likely that they will find a route into using drugs or alcohol and that is what we need to overcome. We need to give people choices, and healthier choices. There are ways to deal with problems and issues other than to turn to drugs and alcohol,” Mr Campbell said.
For advice and local support, in the first instance contact your GP or Studio 8 on 01343 543792, by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or just walk in through the door at 73 High Street, Elgin.