Sleeping pill being used as courage drug by criminals: Ministers urged to tighten controls

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DRUG experts are calling for tighter controls on a popular sleeping pill which when abused by criminals can make them fearless and immune to pain.

Temazepam, known as 'Wobbly Eggs' on the street, is prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. But petty criminals have found that when injected the drug is useful for Dutch courage.

'They use the drug deliberately to help them commit crimes from car theft to burglary', Superintendent Ian Daines, of Northumbria Police, said. 'The tablet makes them as high as a kite. Their behaviour becomes totally irrational and they are immune to pain and fear.'

Now the Home Office is considering proposals to impose stricter controls. Rosemary Waugh, of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said: 'We have asked ministers to toughen up legislation on prescriptions. The abuse of Temazepam is a national problem.'

Temazepam treats anxiety and insomnia by numbing the senses - physically and emotionally. Doctors say it is a safe drug when correctly prescribed. The problems arise when patients have their tablets pilfered by other members of the household, or visitors, Supt Daines said.

'It is the bright yellow colour which attracts young people. The buzz is like a roller coaster ride. They shout, scream, and switch moods from being passive to aggressive in an instant.

'They use the drug deliberately to give them the courage and, they believe, the alertness to commit crimes from car theft to burglary.'

Nearly half of those under 30 arrested in the Gateshead East area, admitted to using 'Wobbly Eggs', Northumbria Police said.

Temazepam has been used by heroin addicts for years. It is seen as a cheaper, more readily available alternative to heroin and other barbiturates. But it is only in the past year that Temazepam has been adopted as a 'choice drug' particularly in north-east England and in London. Capsules sell for as little as pounds 1.

'It gives you the buzz of heroin without the withdrawal symptoms', Emily Finch, a doctor at the National Addiction Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, said. 'It is used as a binge drug - a handful of 20 capsules three times a week.'

It is not the drug itself that is so dangerous but the formulation, Dr Finch said. The gel turns to liquid when heated, but once injected, the compound solidifies as it cools. This causes immense physical problems: 'It can cause infection and blood clots. Occasionally limb amputation is necessary.'

Dr Finch said that although the drug was of medical value, GPs should be discouraged from prescribing Temazepam 'willy- nilly': 'It is a useful drug in the short-term but people with long- term problems should be referred to a counsellor.'

Tighter controls on the drug would help. 'The Home Office should be notified about patients who are genuinely addicted.' Anyone using the drug illegally would be identified more easily, Dr Finch said.