“There is nothing sadder than an aging hipster,” Lenny Bruce once opined. While there’s certainly a kernel of truth to that statement, we believe the late comedian missed the mark by just a few degrees. Far sadder, in our estimation, is an aging drug addict, whose aims to recapture lost glory not by feigning interest in the musical trend du jour, but rather by plunging a heroin needle into their arm ad infinitum.
Such gloomy souls haunt the streets and “estates” of Edinburgh, Scotland, the city whose taste for debauchery was made famous by one of our favorite writers. But keep in mind that Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was set in the mid-to-late 1980s, and even then the main characters realized that their heydays had long past. Rent Boy and his mates would now be in their early 50s, as are many of the folks who fell in love with heroin as youths. But getting older doesn’t mean that love wears off, as Scottish health authorities are now discovering:
Research also shows there are 15,000 older drug users – around 26% of Scotland’s serious drug-using population – but this relatively small group makes up nearly half of all drug-related deaths.
The General Register Office for Scotland revealed drug-related fatalities increased by 26% in 2007/08 to 574 – the highest number to date. The biggest increase in deaths came among older users.
The pathetic withering of the so-called Trainspotting Generation got us thinking about why, exactly, so many young Scots got caught up in junk. As it turns out, the roots of the epidemic stretch back to the 19th century, when Edinburgh was the capital of Britain’s opium production industry. With so ready a supply of the drug at corner pharmacies, the city’s culture quickly became accustomed to its charms:
It was no surprise the use of the wonderful new drugs continued to spread, especially among respectable middle-class families with money to spend. In 1877 the Edinburgh Medical Journal published an article on the implications for health of changing social habits, saying opium “is regularly put on the table on the removal of the cloth after dinner”…
Like the drug barons of today, the city’s pharmacists made huge profits out of the drugs they sold. With their top hats, black frock-coats and membership of the Free Church of Scotland, they saw it as a sign of divine favour when they were able to expand from mere retailing into manufacturing of their own. Duncan Flockhart set up a factory in Holyrood Road, Macfarlan’s at Canonmills and T&H Smith at Gorgie..
By the end of the 19th century Edinburgh produced most of the world’s opiate drugs, heroin included. This was big business in the capital, one answer to the coal, steel and shipbuilding of the rival conurbation on the Clyde.
Between the ongoing drug scourge and the consumption of these, it’s little wonder that Scotland’s life expectancy stats lag behind those of other Western European nations—though they’re basically on par with those of the United States.