Changes in ‘street valium’ market may be a factor in increasing drug-related deaths

This article was originally published in The Times on the 26th of February 2018

Counterfeit valium bought online in enormous quantities from China has been blamed for a steep rise in drug-related deaths across Scotland.

Experts say the country is being flooded with potentially lethal blue pills which are being sold for as little as 30p each. They can kill when combined with heroin, methadone or widely-prescribed painkillers such as gabapentin. In Dundee, which seems to be bearing the brunt, there were 12 fatalities recorded last month alone. The city council has convened a “drugs commission” to tackle the emerging crisis with representatives from the NHS, Police Scotland and drugs agencies. A senior figure in the city’s SNP-led administration has also backed the idea of giving heroin to addicts in a medically supervised setting to stem the death toll.

The latest figures show that more than twice as many people are dying from drug use in Scotland than a decade ago. A total of 867 people died in 2016, 23 per cent more than the previous year and double the number in 2006.

Specialist drug agencies expect overdose deaths to rise to further record levels, noting that people are dying in alarming numbers.

Dave Barrie, service manager with Addaction, which supports drug users in Dundee, insisted that urgent action was needed. “One life is too many, but when you are losing up to ten people a month then crisis is probably an accurate way to describe it,” he said. “The amount of people dying, not only in Dundee but nationally, means that action now needs to be taken.”

Mr Barrie said that “street valium”, whose chemical contents are often unknown, was becoming increasingly prevalent. “People are importing these drugs from China via the internet. They are buying thousands of blue pills for virtually nothing and they can can double, triple or even quadruple their money, Individuals are profiting massively through misery.”

The drugs are being bought in bulk by crime gangs and sold by dealers in housing estates and the city centre.

Ken Lynn, Dundee council’s lead spokesman on health and social care, said: “I have lost count of the people who have died. We can’t go on like this. That is why we are going to be launching a drugs commission next month.”

Mr Lynn, an SNP councillor, indicated his personal preference was for radical measures. “I wouldn’t rule anything out. I am in favour of safe consumption rooms for drug users and I am also interested in heroin prescription.”

In Glasgow, the council and NHS have backed plans to try and cut drug deaths by giving medical-grade heroin directly to addicts in a specialist clinic. The plans were modified after the Home Office opposed plans to let users to bring their own drugs to the clinic.

Fake valium has been linked to dozens of deaths across the country, with Glasgow, Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Lothian regarded as overdose hotspots.

David Liddell, chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said: “Drug overdose deaths have been at record highs for the past two years and this trend shows no sign of changing.

“Most fatal overdoses are caused by poly-drug use, so the concerns expressed in various areas across Scotland about changes in the ‘street valium’ market may be justified.”

Jo Roden, a Dundee resident who lost two sons to drugs, called for greater scrutiny, stating: “Shoeboxes filled with pills are heading from China to tower blocks in Dundee month after month. Surely these concerns have to be raised.”

Earlier this month, it emerged that the UK is the second-largest market for untraceable global online sales of anti-anxiety medications via the dark web, the collective name for hidden and anonymised websites.