Police have recorded 388 drug deaths in Scotland in the first six months of 2019 and a further 296 deaths are being investigated as drug-related, according to figures seen by the BBC.
Last year’s annual statistics were the highest since records began, with 1,187 fatalities in 2018.
The rise prompted parliamentary inquiries and action by the Scottish government.
The data for 2019 is held by Police Scotland and if the cases being investigated are confirmed as drug deaths it would take the half-year total to 684 – higher than the same period last year.
Earlier this year, BBC Scotland’s The Nine programme revealed the trend in online drug purchases in one community.
It has now returned to Dumfries and Galloway to tell the story of one rural addict and his partner.
‘You’ve got to come off this stuff’
Craig Wyllie was a long-term drug user who lived in Langholm, the picturesque community where he was known locally for being an addict.
The 36-year-old started using drugs in his teens. He was overweight, was addicted to benzodiazepine tablets such as fake Xanax and was a heavy drinker.
His fiancée – or soul-mate, as described by a friend – was Teressa, who lived in nearby Canonbie.
She was also addicted to various drugs and suffered severe epilepsy. She was 39.
By this summer, the couple – well-known for their public arguments on the village bus – were dead.
Like many users in the area, they had been ordering pills over the internet – diazepam, nitrazepam and fake batches of Xanax, a brand name for alprazolam.
Craig’s father David told The Nine: “He just said there were these blue tablets.
“It was only in the last few months that I knew he was ordering tablets over the internet.
“But he wouldn’t say exactly what they were. I later found out from one of his friends that it was Xanax.
“I said to him, ‘Craig, you’ve got to come off this stuff.’
“He said, ‘Dad, I am trying, I am trying…Trust me, I know what I am doing.’
“But I guess he never.”
Craig had been seeking help for his addiction and mental health issues from his local NHS. However, he had complained about the services that were provided.
The Nine has seen a chain of emails between his brother Stewart, who lives in Canada, and local NHS staff sent from late 2017 until early 2019.
In the emails, Stewart complained of his brother’s care, including claims he had been turned away from psychiatric services due to a drink problem.
But Craig was also missing appointments as he struggled with money and his drug use.
Stewart told the BBC: “His basic needs weren’t being met. He wasn’t working. There were days where he couldn’t pay for his electricity, days where he couldn’t even afford to buy food. He had his ongoing issues at home.
“But then to be expected to travel to take two, three separate buses to get to these appointments, it is just unacceptable.”
NHS Dumfries and Galloway would not comment on an individual case.
A spokesman said: “A recognition that 40% non-attendance for first assessments was unsustainable resulted in measures introduced in January 2019 which have seen this non-attendance rate for first assessments fall to 30%.”
An ‘inseparable’ couple
Craig had a turbulent relationship with Teressa.
Sharon – not her real name – was a friend and neighbour of Teressa and Craig. She said that despite the fights and fall-outs, the two were often inseparable.
“Craig and Teressa always got back together,” she said.
“It was up-and-down but they loved each other an incredible amount.”
However, asked it she thought the couple’s relationship would have survived without the presence of drugs or alcohol, Sharon said: “We won’t know otherwise because they were never off drugs to find that answer out.”
On 31 January this year, Craig was arrested at Teressa’s home after he caused a disturbance and cut himself with a knife. He was remanded before special bail conditions meant the couple would be separated until a trial later in the year.
Craig was well-known to police. He had a lengthy criminal history for drugs, assault and careless driving.
A day before he was sentenced to a community payback order for the January incident, Craig was caught in Gretna carrying four different types of street tablets. He wasn’t charged. However, by that time, it was already too late to return to Teressa.
After failing to show up for her methadone subscription, she was found dead in her home on 15 March. Her cause of death is still listed as “unascertained”.
Craig’s father David said: “Craig was devastated. He blamed himself for not being there.”
Family’s wait for answers
According to his friends and family, Craig couldn’t recover from his partner’s death.
In a letter to his brother, he wrote about his addiction to pills: “I know I’ve not helped a bit but something has made me so bad on them, to make me drink and take so much without touching the sides.”
He died in his Langholm home on 23 July 2019 – exactly a week after Scotland recorded its highest-ever number of drug-related deaths.
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Despite Crown Office advice that post mortem examination results would be available between six and eight weeks after a death, the family waited 18 weeks to find out exactly what killed him.
David received a letter from the Crown Office apologising for the delay, referencing “detailed negotiations” between it and the University of Glasgow for pathology services.
Eventually, the results confirmed Craig had consumed nitrazepam, diazepam, cannabis and – the drug that ultimately killed him – heroin.
Last week, the Crown Office confirmed it was investing an additional £300,000 in toxicology services at Glasgow University, which deals with the bulk of Scotland’s drug death case.
It said the money would “help clear overdue post-mortem results that are impacting on a large number of bereaved families”.
However, it added that a “long term solution for future delivery” was being sought from alternative providers as the Glasgow University contract ends next year.
The Scottish government has called for greater powers over drug policy to help tackle the problem north of the border.
A spokesman said: “We have invested almost £800m to tackle problem alcohol and drug use since 2008, and our 2018 alcohol and drug strategy set out how an additional £20m per annum announced the year before is being used to improve local prevention, treatment, and recovery services in areas all across Scotland.”
He added that a further £20m of investment over to years to support local service and “provide targeted support” was included in the 2019-20 programme for government.
The Home Office said it was committed to preventing drug use and supporting people through treatement and recovery.
A spokesperson added: “We are concerned about the rate of drug deaths in Scotland and will continue to work together with the Scottish government to tackle the issue.
“After Brexit we will take back control of our borders, which will give us a greater ability to crackdown on criminality to keep drugs out of the country.”