In the country, no one can hear you cry

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
What if you're a young person in rural Scotland with a drugs problem? What help is available to you at 3am?

The answer is practically nothing. There's the doctor. You could phone him if you can manage to make the call without your family leaping out of bed and hearing the distressing story of your addiction. Although you need their support, you have alienated them because of the moods which go with your condition. It is an illness, isn't it, like alcoholism.

You may want support during the day. Phone up and make an appointment - that kind of thing. You sit in the waiting room, making small talk with your next-door neighbour who doesn't mind telling you that her stomach ulcer is playing up again. If only your case was that simple.

It's your turn.Your eyes are downcast as you smile weakly in response to the well-worn "How are you?" from the doctor. The words don't come out in the way you have rehearsed them a thousand times since you phoned up and made that appointment. It really is much easier to arrange your face into composure and go for the old sore throat complaint.

I'm sure that Scotland Against Drugs is doing a reasonable job in certain areas. Various newspapers actively espouse the anti-drugs message from time to time. Drug dealers are exposed and healthy lifestyles promoted. Schools run their individual programmes on raising awareness of drugs issues and work on radically changing pupils' attitudes towards drugs misuse. All very commendable.

Scotland Against Drugs has just been awarded pound;4.5 million over the next three years to expand its education programme. Schools, youth clubs and community organisation are invited to apply to be included n its programme. Yet from where I am sitting, there are two major problems. The anti-drugs message has still to hit the right note on a scale big enough to encompass the whole of Scotland. And the Executive has failed to provide support for young people for whom the prevention message is too late. In rural Scotland there is virtually no help.

Almost a year ago I stood in a cemetery and felt immeasurable hopelessness as my cousins buried their son. On a day of beautiful sunshine we looked across at the majesty of Ben Nevis and wondered at the impotence of a system that had failed a boy with the proverbial "everything to live for". He had needed and wanted immediate help with his problems but there was none available. A waiting list was of no use to him but that was where he was when the depression caused by his misuse of drugs finally overwhelmed him and killed him. Since his death I have looked into what is offered to young people in terms of concrete immediate professional help. I am horrified that there is so little provision.

Recently, Paul Betts came to speak to our pupils about the tragic death of his daughter Leah. Our teenagers were deeply affected with many of them in tears and vowing never to touch drugs. Maybe most poignant of all was his constant emphasis on choice.

Sadly, some of our young people will choose to take drugs. When that happens communities must be able to offer the necessary support. It will cost huge money but we must do it. This problem needs the full engagement of the Executive - the odd million here and there is not enough. There is a chain round our necks and at the moment we are not even beginning to bore through it.

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