“One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” Coinage of the world’s most heartless quotation is disputed. But most agree that Joseph Stalin was sufficiently indifferent to human misery on an industrial scale to make him the likeliest author.
As a journalist I recognise the hideous paradox coiled-up within that quote. Important stories are not always stories the public find arresting. For days there are headlines which would not look out of place announcing The Second Coming, describing an event of the middling sort that will never trouble a historian’s pen. Meanwhile, other news – news that ought to stop right-thinking people in their tracks – disappears into a sludge of quotidian apathy.
One such story was the recent announcement that drug deaths in Scotland had reached another ‘grim milestone’. How did you react to that news? Did you even know it had happened? More importantly, who are the victims and why are not more of us involved in a conversation about how to bring their numbers down?
Let’s start from the assumption of ignorance, which was my position before I considered that obliviousness is a feeble response to an epic tragedy that is unfolding right now in our islands.
We should all be shocked by the official arithmetic. It shows us that you are three and a half times more likely to die of drug misuse in Scotland than in England and Wales. The likelihood of you dying of drug misuse is higher in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe. You are more likely to die of drug misuse in Scotland than you are in the United States.