It still hurts 16 years on
Margaret’s shock at drugs deaths
A Rutherglen mum whose daughter lost her life to heroin has spoken of her horror at new figures that reveal a 16 per cent increase in Scotland’s drugs death toll.
A shocking 613 people died in Scotland last year as a result of drugs – the highest level since records began.
Margaret Donatello’s life was ripped apart on August 10, 1999, when police called at her Main Street home to break the devastating news that 19-year-old Pauline had been found dead in a city close.
Office junior Pauline, who had been made redundant, befriended an addict she met while signing on at Rutherglen Jobcentre.
Before long Margaret began to notice changes in her only child.
She gave up her job search, preferring to exist on benefits. Tall and slender, she no longer took pride in her appearance and the long, blonde hair that had been her most striking feature was left unwashed and scraped back.
Pauline confessed to her mum that she had been taking heroin and begged her not to tell her dad – a confidence Margaret now wishes she had shared with her husband.
“I knew nothing about drugs,” she said, “but thought that if a person admits to it then they are on the road to recovery – but I was wrong.”
Margaret set about keeping her daughter busy to distract her and arranged for her to move in with her gran to keep her away from the influence of other drug users.
But she said: “When she was paid off from her next job she took it really badly. She started getting in with a different crowd. I’d hear her crying in her room. She would talk awful slang.
“At the times when she tried to come off it she looked better and her speech was better but it’s like a binge drinker: she’d go straight back on it again.”
Former Trinity High School pupil Pauline was now injecting and the caring, family girl who loved going out to lunch with her mum every Saturday and always phoned if she would be late home no longer existed.
She began to take money from her parents and from her gran and Margaret suspected she was shoplifting to fund her spiralling drugs habit.
Pauline had been clean for a short period before the fateful day when another addict called police, who found her dead.
“When you come off it you think you can go back on it again and use the same amount as before but you can’t,” said Margaret (68), whose daughter had sent her mum and gran a letter, apologising for taking money and promising to visit if she “plucked up the courage”. Tragically, the letters arrived on the day of her death.
“I was on my own when the police came to the door,” Margaret said. “My husband was on night shift. It was the day of the eclipse. It was as though the lights had gone out because Pauline was dead.”
Pauline had been a drug user for 18 months and her mum swears that she became hooked after only a week.
Drugs robbed the family of a chatty, helpful, kind-hearted girl, who was in the Brownies, would befriend the least popular pupils in school and was a proud Landemer lady-in-waiting.
“I think of Pauline first thing every morning and last thing every night. I will miss her all my life,” said Margaret.
She now volunteers at the Family Addiction Support Service, a charity set up by Marlene Johnstone, whose son Robert was found dead in a Castlemilk flat in 1995 after injecting heroin for the first time.
She collects clothes to donate to drug users’ families and to Mary’s Meals. She also walked the West Highland Way and raised a staggering £8000 for rehab charities.
Following the tragic loss of Pauline, strangers would stop her in Rutherglen streets to donate money and local businesses have organised fundraisers in the teenager’s name.
Margaret is deeply shocked that drug deaths have peaked at their highest level ever.
“I thought the figures were at their highest the year Pauline lost her life,” she said. “I thought the trend was going down but it seems to be getting worse.
“I can’t help but think about the parents going through what happened to me. It can seem hard to believe but I’d like to tell them that it does get better – after time.”
David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “Those who are dying are, in most cases, the most vulnerable of the people in Scotland with a drug problem.
“As a result, we must work with services to see how we can engage better with this group as there is strong evidence that engagement with services is a protective factor in reducing overdose deaths.”
I can’t help but think about the parents
Happy times Margaret with a picture of Pauline when she was just a toddler