The Government is to consider introducing tough new curbs on the prescription of Temazepam, a sleeping tablet that has led to the deaths of scores of drug addicts in Scotland.
The move comes after a dramatic increase in Temazepam-related deaths. More than 60 youngsters have died in the past two years after taking the drug and last month two people were murdered in Paisley in a gangland struggle for control of the local £10m Temazepam market.
After the latest deaths, MPs and health officials urged Lord Fraser, the Scottish health minister, to introduce guidelines. Last week he said ministers would "consider whether further guidance would be appropriate".
The Government may re-classify Temazepam to make its possession without a prescription a criminal offence, to discourage GPs from making repeat prescriptions, and to impose stricter storage conditions.
Two years ago, the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended reclassification. Ministers are expected to decide later this year. The mildly addictive sedative is favoured by NHS doctors because it is effective and cheap. In recent years, drug dealers, who have stolen prescriptions and raided chemists and drug warehouses, have begun supplying millions of the gel-filled capsules to addicts, particularly those in Strathclyde.
Junkies heat the capsules to liquefy the gel and inject the drug with other depressants, in particular, heroin.
Scores have overdosed on such "cocktails". Others have had limbs amputated; when it cools, the gel solidifies in veins, blocking arteries and causing gangrene.
Demand for the capsules, nicknamed "jellies", has grown rapidly on Glasgow's deprived housing estates, where many see drugs as an antidote to boredom and unemployment. Profits are huge. One capsule costs less than 20p to make but fetches up to £3 on the black market.
The latest upsurge in violence in Paisley, in which five people have been shot, is part of an ongoing struggle between dealers for control of the market.