Prescription drug deaths. Do we not care because most of the victims are poor?

This week’s BBC Spotlight on prescription drug addiction made for grim viewing. We have covered prescription drug abuse before but when you see the faces of the victims and their distraught families it really brings the scale of the issue home to you. There was the mother who can look out her bedroom window and see the grave of her son. The father who was just numb with grief. The mother who had converted her living room into a mini shrine for her dead son.

So far this year in Belfast alone there have been 37 prescription drug deaths, most of them in North Belfast. While it is an issue across Northern Ireland it does seem to be largely affecting young men in working-class areas. That this is the same group that is also most affected by suicide does seem to be a cruel double whammy.

Campbell College hit the headlines a few months ago when some pupils were suspended for smoking cannabis. If God forbid pupils at Campbell College or any of our Grammar schools started dying from drug overdoses you get the feeling that the response from the great and the good would be more substantial.

With prescription drugs, there has always been an element of them being a chemical cosh for the poor. Mother’s little helper and all that. We can’t remove people from poverty, so all we can do is dope them up.

The most depressing thing about the situation is we act like these issues are impossible to solve; we shrug our shoulders and move on. The BBC had an interesting video about how Iceland reduced its teenage drink and drug abuse levels. The percentage of 15-16 year-olds getting drunk was reduced from 42% to 5%, a staggering reduction. The video is only 3 minutes and well worth a watch.

If there is the will we can fix a lot of these societal issues. But unfortunately, our concerns seem to be elsewhere.

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