Pubdate: Wednesday, December 3, 1997 Source: The Scotsman Contact: YOUNG DICE WITH KILLER HEROIN CULT By Frank Urquhart Death Of Councillor's Daughter Highlights Increase In Young Addicts In NorthEast PORTLETHEN is no different from any of the other commuter towns and villages around Aberdeen which have grown rapidly on the riches of North Sea oil. Once a quiet backwater with a main street and a few cottages it is now a sprawling series of housing estates a dormitory town with no real heart to the community, only a major shopping centre on its outskirts. It is a place where teenagers, unable to find refuge in the handful of pubs, have little choice but to hang around street corners. And it's where cannabis, acid, ecstasy and even heroin can be bought just as easily as eight miles away in the heart of the Granite City. Portlethen was also the town where 18yearold Vicky Nash, the eldest daughter of local councillor Mairi Nash, was raised and went to school. On Monday she became the latest tragic statistic of the growing scourge of heroin in the north east of Scotland. Vicky was found dead in the early hours of the morning in a friend's flat at a hostel in The Spital, in the heart of Old Aberdeen, a hypodermic syringe by her side. It was one of a succession of flats where she had dossed down after leaving home, in the throes of heroin addiction. She had turned to crime to feed her habit, believed to have started while she was still at school, and was due to appear at Aberdeen Sheriff Court yesterday on shoplifting charges. Her downward spiral into addiction was all too typical of the other 27 victims of drugrelated fatalities in the Grampian police force area already this year young and with everything to live for, from a loving family, and with an apparently bright future in front of her. She left Portlethen Academy a year ago in the middle of her sixthyear studies. The reasons for her sudden departure from school are now only too obvious. Yesterday at her home in Portlethen, Mrs Nash was still struggling to come to terms with the death of grieving for a daughter she described as "a young and very attractive girl with loads of personality". Heroin, however, does not respect post codes, background, status or upbringing. Smack kills indiscriminately. The death of Vicky Nash may have finally served to focus the minds of councillors throughout the north east on the human cost of the growing tide of heroin abuse sweeping across the area. But for health care professionals and drug agency workers there are no surprises left any more. Janice Jess, of the Grampian Addiction Problem Service, has seen it all before. But she despairs at the loss of every young life in her area. Over the past five or six years she has seen heroin grow from a habit affecting only a small number of young people to the drug of choice for hundreds of throughout the northeast. She told The Scotsman: "I am saddened for the mother. She must be going through a terrible time. The problem is that heroin affects people from all social stratas and all walks of life. Just because someone is using drugs doesn't mean they are from bad homes or bad families. In fact it can be the exact opposite. "They came from very good and caring families where they have had everything going for them and it still doesn't make any difference. Once they get into the drugs scene their friends change, their choices change and they reject what they have had given to them." There was, she explained, no pattern to heroin addiction. Teenagers in the northeast no longer gravitate towards hard drugs after experimenting with 'recreational' drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy. More and more begin with smack. Young people were taking up heroin in the full knowledge of its lethal potential said Mrs Jess. "The problem is that they all believe it can't happen to them that the people who die are idiots." Mrs Jess said a dedicated rehabilitation centre was desperately needed in the northeast, "where young people can be detoxified and assessed and so that the various agencies can offer them the support they need after they return to the community". "Some young addicts are having to travel as far as a specialist centre in the Wirral, near Liverpool, to come off heroin. The nearest rehabilitation centre in Glasgow cannot cope with the demand," she said. "Without a centre here in the northeast the deaths will continue. All we are doing is fighting a rearguard action." Aberdeen Drugs Action in Union Street is the main agency dealing directly with drug abusers in the city. They refuse to say whether Vicky Nash was one of their clients. It is clear, however, that Vicky was only one of an increasing number of teenagers turning to heroin. Keith Patterson, the director of the agency, said that in the past six months, 60 per cent of the 148 new contacts seeking help for heroin abuse were under 25, and 40 per cent under 20, some younger than 16. More alarmingly, the number of those under 25 using the agency's needle exchange scheme is significantly higher 74 per cent of the new contacts. Mr Patterson said: "The increase in heroin use is worrying. But the fact that people are picking up the message about not sharing needles, using clean injection equipment and attending an agency for support is what we would be looking for. "We offer a confidential and nonjudgmental service, and it is important that people make early contact with the service for help and information." In Portlethen, meanwhile, the grim reality of drug abuse and its fatal consequences has shocked many. One mother of two teenage girls said: "What else can you do but trust your children? You can't lock them in every night, you have to let them go. Noone really knows what their kids get up to once they're out of the house. All you can do is pray the same thing won't happen to you." Albert Swinborn, the head teacher at Portlethen Academy, said: "We are all very saddened and upset to hear of the tragedy, both staff and pupils." Colleagues who knew Vicky felt she was a bright, lively girl and we are all just struck by the tragedy of it all. He added: "Portlethen is no different from any other community in Scotland where drugs are concerned ; It clearly is a danger we have to be very, very aware of and alert to and The school does everything it can to participate in the education of the young about drug issues."