Glasgow breaks record for drug deaths
Narcotics war: 'Slaughter by needle' claims its 100th victim this year in 'small city struggling with a big problem'
Monday 18 December 1995
The grim record has prompted calls for a wide-ranging public inquiry into drug abuse in Glasgow. MPs, bereaved parents, health professionals and junkies themselves say radical measures are needed to stamp out the city's problem - the worst in Europe.
Two years ago a fatal-accident inquiry was held in Glasgow into a dozen "indicative" drugs deaths. It highlighted junkies' use of lethal drugs "cocktails" - mainly heroin and the sleeping pill temazepam. Earlier this year the Government reclassified temazepam, making possession without prescription a criminal offence, and discouraging prescription of the drug in its most harmful gel form. But the deaths have continued to rise.
Now John McFall, Labour's Scottish home affairs spokesman, is urging the Government to set up a special standing committee to examine the issue. He will formally ask Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, to take action at a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee of MPs in Glasgow today.
Mr McFall said: "Drugs are the biggest single cause of death for young people in Glasgow and each year the death toll rises. A generation is dying and no one really knows why.
"Drugs cocktails are part of the problem but the drugs scene is a fast changing one. We have a unique problem which requires close attention. We must find out exactly what is going on on the streets."
Drugs deaths have risen sharply in recent years. In 1993 43 young Glaswegians died; last year the figure was 97 out of a total of around 140 north of the border. In a city of 650,000 people the rate is worryingly high. Compared to the rest of Britain, it is shocking. Around 350 intravenous drug addicts take fatal overdoses in the whole of England and Wales each year. If London's death rate was the same as Glasgow's, more than 1,000 youngsters would die each year - three every day. In fact, London's total this year is around 80.
Earlier this year Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Scottish Office health minister, told the parents of overdose victims he would consider their demands for a public inquiry into drug abuse. But so far no announcement has been made. Ministers are understood to be reluctant to order an investigation into what health workers call "slaughter by needle".
Many ordinary Glaswegians also oppose an inquiry. They blame the addicts themselves for their own "self-inflicted" deaths. But police point out that drug use lies behind Glasgow's high crime rate, which affects the entire community.
Glasgow's murder rate has risen by more than 30 per cent this year as gangs fight vicious battles for control of the pounds 1bn-a-year drugs trade. And two-thirds of all day-to-day crime, in particular burglary and shoplifting, is drugs-related as addicts steal to find the money to feed their habit.
Police officers, who believe that more research is needed on the link between deprivation and drug abuse, welcome Mr McFall's proposals.
Detective Inspector Eddie McColm, deputy co-ordinator of drugs policy at Strathclyde Police, concedes that recent initiatives, like the reclassification of temazepam and the introduction of the heroin substitute methadone, have failed to reduce the number of injecting addicts on Clydeside. This at present stands at around 10,000 - higher, in relative terms, than in any other European city.
Det Insp McColm said yesterday: "It is early days, but the latest figures seem to show that our initiatives and those implemented by health authorities are not working.
"We need to keep the problem under constant review because those of us who deal with it know that it changes so fast. Glasgow is a small city with a big problem and it is only when we have discovered the real motives for drug taking and overdosing that we can begin to reduce the slaughter."
'I have gone over the top six or seven times'
"I should be dead by now. I'm amazed I'm still alive," Charlie, 28, said. Raising his right arm to reveal an eight-inch scar from a surgeon's knife, and sagging white skin perforated by the steel points of thousands of heroin-filled syringes, he lit another cigarette, his 15th of the morning.
As smoke curled around his grey, cracked, fingernails he described how, like 100 other young Glaswegians this year, he has overdosed on illegal and prescription drugs. "I have gone over the top six or seven times," he said. "It usually happens in toilets - either public ones or in McDonald's or the bus station. At least, that's where the doctors say they found me."
He starts "jagging" as soon as he wakes. "I need something to set me up for the day. So I see the dealer, buy the 1g score-deal of heroin, heat it up, suck it up into the barrel of the syringe and look for a vein which is still fresh. I have injected all over my body - my arms, legs, neck, groin - but most of my veins have dried up now. I am going straight for the arteries."
Like many among Glasgow's 10,000 drug addicts, Charlie mixes heroin with temazepam capsules - nicknamed "jellies". "Mixing gives me a bigger hit, a great, comfortable warm feeling - instantly. Before I push down the plunger of the syringe, I swallow or melt down and inject 10 or 20 jellies. That would kill a normal person but I have built up resistance. I can take up to 60."
It is these "drugs cocktails" which are partly responsible for the hundreds of overdoses and deaths that have gained Glasgow the nickname "slaughter city". Like most addicts, who are so well-informed about drugs that they can quote their chemical formulae and pharmaceutical names, Charlie knows the risks he is taking. But he knows he cannot stop.
"I am aware of what I am doing. I am combining the most powerful opiate known to man - heroin - with the most powerful prescription sedative - temazepam. People ask me: 'If you know it is so dangerous, why do it?' But they don't understand how great the craving is.
"When you are an addict, you feel you cannot do anything until you are full of drugs. You just cannot function. You feel empty, cold, unself- confident. When you are not on drugs you are not living. Once you are hooked, drugs become life."
Even after he has overdosed he has gone straight back to the dealers. "One time I left the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and I didn't even go home. I went straight out and scored another hit ... When it has got a hold on you, there's nothing you can do - except pray you won't die like your mates."
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