Drugs-related deaths double in Glasgow

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DRUGS-RELATED deaths in Glasgow have more than doubled in the past year, according to a new police report.

Heroin is the main killer, with a growing number of users injecting the drug in a highly risky cocktail with temazepam - a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety. Of the 63 drugs deaths in the city so far this year, 55 are directly linked to heroin, Strathclyde Police said. The increase breaks a downward trend over the previous three years - there were only 30 drug deaths in 1997.

Glasgow's drug culture is a picture of social degeneration and related crime. An estimated 9,500 people inject substances in the city. Whereas drugs are generally used to cushion reality, on the housing estates there they tend to be used to block it out completely. According to Andrew Horne, manager of the Glasgow Drug Crisis Centre, adding in temazepam has just that effect.

"If a heroin user was told Celtic had lost 6-0 to Rangers he would understand the information but not feel the pain," explained Mr Horne. "If he was using temazepam on top, he wouldn't even know about it."

The new generation of users is mindless of the horrors of a decade ago. They start by smoking the drug, move on to injecting and then try cocktails.

Doctors and drugs specialists believe that the rise in deaths is directly linked to a flood of illegally manufactured temazepam and probably the increased purity of heroin on the market. "Temazepam jellies are back in a big way," said Mr Horne. He charts the decline in deaths after 75 in 1995 to tighter controls on prescribing temazepam.

But with its return in an easily injectable jelly form, he estimates that one-third of the 3,500 heroin users seen by the centre in a year are on the potentially deadly cocktail. Similar to cod liver oil capsules, jellies cost pounds 1.50 to pounds 2 each on the street.

The Strathclyde Police drugs co-ordinator, Detective Superintendent Barry Dougall, said: "We are very disappointed in the rise in drug deaths because we thought last year we were making some impact.

"The purity levels of heroin on the street has risen from between 15 and 30 per cent to between 20 and 60 per cent in recent times... We believe it is in response to the market trend to smoke heroin rather than inject it, as smokers require stronger purity."

But as users turned to injecting, Det Supt Dougall said, it had "double the effect, double the consequences and double the danger".

According to Greater Glasgow Health Board drugs unit, the cocktailing of heroin was certainly a factor in the rise in deaths. "We are seeing a new generation of kids starting to smoke heroin and then some of them are sliding down into injecting, and it is there that you get the deaths," a spokesman said. "Once into the culture of injecting and using other drugs as well as the heroin, then it is one of the most risky things a young person can do."