It still hurts 16 years on

Mar­garet’s shock at drugs deaths

Rutherglen Reformer - - News - Niki Ten­nant

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

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