Glasgow heroin epidemic kills 99

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE DEATH toll among drug users in Strathclyde, which covers the Glasgow area, is expected this week to reach a record total of 100 for 1999, more than the whole of last year.

This year's figure, likely to grow substantially in the remaining four months of the year, reflects a growing heroin epidemic in Scotland's biggest city. Police and social services have become increasingly alarmed as the total has risen steadily towards the milestone 100th victim, whose death is likely to raise the issue to the forefront of public debate.

The 99th victim, equalling the total for last year, died at the weekend. The body of David Dalton, 23, was found at a house in Paisley.

Figures for the rest of the United Kingdom are not yet available for this year, but anecdotal evidence suggests increasing problems in England as well. In March and April, at least 10 people died in Bristol after overdosing on an exceptionally pure batch of heroin.

The rising Scottish toll comes at a time of record seizures of heroin and class A drugs north of the border - up 36 per cent last year. In 1998, 28kg of heroin was seized, four times the figure in 1996. In the four months to July this year, police seized heroin in the Strathclyde region worth pounds 30m.

Experts say an important factor behind the number of deaths is the preference in Glasgow for mixing and injecting drugs - probably the most dangerous way of taking illegal drugs and one that has led to high levels of HIV infection.

Although the dangers are widely known, addicts seem prepared to accept the risk, said Professor Neil McKeganey, head of the centre for drug misuse research at Glasgow University. "In interviews with addicts who had survived an overdose, many of the young people stated that when they had used the drugs that had nearly killed them, they were not really that bothered whether they lived or died."

However, Professor Mc Keganey also stressed the poor social conditions that allowed drug abuse to flourish. He said: "Communities such as Castlemilk, Drumchapel, Easterhouse and Possilpark have suffered years of chronic unemployment and social neglect and have become fertile grounds for the buying and selling of illegal drugs."

An additional problem is the lack of knowledge about what actually works in rehabilitating drug users. Scotland has had no randomised control trial evaluating the effectiveness of methadone as a heroin substitute. Likewise, little is known about whether it is better to dispense drug education through teachers, peers, parents or reformed addicts.

Police are warning that this year's death toll will rise because many deaths from overdoses are not recorded until post-mortem examinations have been completed. Last year, in Strathclyde another 56 drug-related deaths were in this way eventually added to the initial annual total, bringing the figure to 155. Police expect the eventual 1999 total to be similarly inflated to between 175 and 200.