Drug abuse lays waste a generation: Exclusive

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The Independent Online
DRUG abuse in Scotland has reached 'staggering proportions' with heroin widely available throughout the country. A seven-month investigation by a committee of MPs has uncovered a picture of a nation's youth ruined by drugs.

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee, in a report out tomorrow, reveals that it found:

Half of a class of children at a Glasgow school using heroin by the time they finished their education.

10 and 11-year-olds taking drugs, some of them on heroin.

An HIV-positive prisoner sharing a needle with six other inmates.

The drugs problem has spread beyond Glasgow and Edinburgh to Aberdeen, Dundee and rural towns and villages, the 11 MPs found. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, in evidence to the committee, estimated that 300,000 people (out of a population of five million) could be taking drugs in Scotland - 10 times official estimates. There has been a 700 per cent increase in drug offences in Scotland between 1981 and 1991.

The MPs are expected to call for the wider availability of methadone, a synthetic drug, to help wean addicts off heroin. Pharmacists who prescribe methadone will be urged to watch addicts take the drug so that it cannot be sold on or swapped with other users. The committee is also expected to ask the Government to provide more funds for needle exchanges to prevent the spread of Aids from contaminated blood. A recommendation for the decriminalisation of cannabis was narrowly defeated by five votes to four, although it may yet be included in the report.

The MPs were shocked by the scale of the drug problem they found during their inquiry. Robert Hughes, Labour MP for Aberdeen North, and a member of the committee, said they found drug use of staggering proportions. 'I was stunned at the extent of the damage it was doing to communities, families and individuals.' In many cases, the MPs found an obvious link between high drug use and poverty, particularly in the deprived areas of Glasgow.

William McKelvey, Labour MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and the committee chairman said: 'The horrifying thing was the 10 and 11-year-old drug takers; some were heroin users. It's all much worse than the authorities would like to admit.'

He said the Aids problem in Edinburgh has reached 'near- epidemic levels' because of the widespread use of needles.

During the study, the committee travelled around Scotland, Amsterdam and the United States. They visited prisons, drugs workers, detoxification units and addicts.

They found young people were increasingly using Temazepam, a prescribed sleeping tablet, known in Glasgow as 'eggs' or 'jellies', and costing as little as pounds 1.50. Ecstasy is also becoming very popular.

Two people died last Friday in Glasgow from drug overdoses, bringing the total number of deaths to 30 so far this year. At least seven of these are believed to have died after taking an unusually pure batch of heroin or mixing it with other substances. A further two youngsters died last month after using a dance drug, probably Ecstasy mixed with other substances, at a rave in Ayr. They were among the 32 drug-related deaths in Strathclyde so far this year. Only 43 died last year.

The report will criticise what MPs believe is a severe lack of funding, co-ordination and information on drugs. Other recommendations are expected to include courts making greater use of their powers to seize the assets of convicted drug dealers and users and more research into drug-related deaths and the effectiveness of treatment programmes.