Today the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for drug related deaths across England and Wales were released. I couldn’t sleep last night already anticipating the anger I was going to feel, the sadness that was going to wake my sleeping grief. It’s 9:40am on August 15th and the statistics are out: there were 2,917 deaths related to illicit drugs in 2018 – and increase of 16% on the previous year. This means that about 56 people are now dying every week from illicit drug-related deaths in England and Wales.
My body starts to race with adrenaline like I need to tell someone we are in a crisis, I need someone to understand the urgency we are in, I feel my heart start to race and a panic consumes me and then I realise, my grief has resurfaced.
I send an email to someone in our campaign, I need to reach out to someone who might understand, I want to fight “them” who could put a stop to these preventable deaths, my fight or flight activates and the adrenaline surges. I realise I have no one to fight, there is only a conflict between my own grief and nervous system because the pain becomes too much to bare.
I spend the day at home, ruminating over each statistic, building their family tree: were they married, did they have children, how are their parents coping, how old were they? And then… where are their families and why aren’t they speaking out? I’m pained by my own thoughts because I know all too well that the shame and stigma of drugs will no doubt have prevented so many loved ones claiming their statistic as their loved one, as their child.
I spend more time thinking about these people, my heart starts to surge with love for each and every one of them, I extend that love out to their family and friends right back round to my own broken heart that only seems to mend that little bit more each step I take towards achieving drug policy reform.
I will not ignore these statistics and neither should you. They are our family, they were people we have supported, they were people that contributed to our diverse communities, they were the children who once swung on the swings at the local park, they were someone’s mother, someone’s father and now they are an annual statistic that our government continues to ignore.
I ask our government: what are you going to do now that we have reached the highest number of drug related deaths ever to be recorded? How will you ensure 2,917 families will not have to bury their children next year? Is our government finally willing to listen to the evidence of countries such as Portugal and Switzerland and start reducing these easily avoidable deaths. I am pleading with you, please put an end to this ‘war on drugs’, my heart can’t cope with the suffering of these losses.