Among the many quotable passages in Irvine Welsh's first novel, Trainspotting, one stands out: "Choose life," says Mark 'Rent-boy' Renton. "Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning ... Choose life ... But why would I want to do a thing like that?"
He chose heroin instead. There were many like him – and figures released this week by the General Register Office for Scotland bleakly underlined Welsh's satirical point: that what they were really choosing was death. Drug-related fatalities increased by 26% from 2007 to 2008 – there is now up to one every four days in the Lothians. Four in five of the dead are men, and the greatest increase is among men aged 35 and above, long-term heroin users who have come to be called the Trainspotting generation.