By Tony McGeever

THIS year I will be returning to the Edinburgh Fringe with my solo show Heroin to Hero, a true and unbelievable story of Paul Boggie who went from death’s door on heroin to guarding the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Paul found freedom not thanks to a failing methadone programme but a course all about the mind, empowering him to go on to join the Army, where he ended up guarding the Queen.

I went into this project thinking it was a straight telling of this remarkable man’s story, however I soon realised that the issues are much bigger, so entwined with the profits and power of big pharma.

As a nation, Scotland is struggling with the worst opiate death rate in Europe; 3.5 times that of England and Wales combined.

In 2021 the Scottish Government announced bold reforms – setting aside £250 million to tackle the problem. I fear this will just mean more of the same.

And what I’ve learned from Paul and others is that the current approaches to addiction are not in the best interests of addicts. Most will relapse, just like Paul did 13 times.

The 14th time Paul’s recovery method cost nothing. What we need to tackle is why addicts turn to drugs as a form of escapism.

As a proud Scot I want to back good political policies but have concerns about the degree to which the Scottish Government appears to be backing pharma – rather than taking action that would really benefit addicts or those at risk of addiction.

Recently I have been travelling around Scotland with Paul, talking to young people as part of his outreach project.

I have been left horrified that so many of them see only see a path of nothingness ahead. Young people without hope, fully expecting that they will end up on the path of opium escapism.

And this is an area in which the arts need to be playing a role as well. In the past there was a strong focus on social and political issues which seems to be getting more diluted.

If you look at the Fringe for example, many venues focus on maximising profit, instead of staging shows with a more political and educational message.

Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a balance of good entertainment, but when venues no longer seem to have our nation’s best interests at heart, it’s time to raise the debate.

We have heard reports of poor working conditions, rising accommodation costs, and underpayment for hardworking venue staff, all of which I have seen first-hand.

Political landscapes change along with a nation’s needs. Theatre in education must come back in strength and I call on Creative Scotland and The National Theatre of Scotland to help turn the opioid death pandemic around.

The answer is in Paul’s story and how he broke free and become a role model for other Scots. I will use the theatre and Paul’s story to show that anything is possible.

Heroin to Hero is part of Army @ The Fringe, Venue 358.