Calls grow for ban on popular sleeping pill

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to ban a widely-prescribed sleeping tablet which is causing hundreds of deaths across Britain.

A Labour MP is to table a Private Member's Bill in the House of Commons to restrict the supply of temazepam. John McFall, MP for Dumbarton near Glasgow, hopes the Bill will prompt the Government to ban the drug, which has spawned a multi-million pound illegal trade north of the border and in several English cities.

Temazepam has become popular among drug addicts in Strathclyde, Liverpool and Newcastle. Hundreds are dying after taking the sedative, which is often mixed with other drugs including heroin. Scores have had limbs amputated because temazepam abuse blocks arteries, causing gangrene.

At the same time, crime is soaring as drug dealers battle to protect their share of the lucrative black market in temazepam and addicts steal to feed their habit. More than 10 men have been murdered in Strathclyde this year in drugs-related conflicts and Strathclyde Police say three- quarters of all petty crime in Glasgow is committed by junkies.

In May, the Government tightened restrictions on the prescription of temazepam and urged general practitioners to stop prescribing the drug in gel-filled capsules, which addicts melt down and inject.

But Mr McFall, Labour's Scottish home affairs spokesman, who is being supported by Paisley MPs, Irene Adams and Gordon McMaster, says the new restrictions have failed to tackle the problem. He points out that the annual number of temazepam-related deaths in Glasgow is still rising, reaching a record 71 last week.

The Bill, which will be tabled in November when MPs return to Westminster, will call for temazepam to be re-classified from a Schedule Four to a Schedule Three drug. That would make its possession without a valid prescription a criminal offence, whereas currently only dealers can be charged. Mr McFall will also urge ministers to investigate why millions of temazepam capsules are "leaking" from manufacturers on to the black market.

His campaign has been welcomed by drugs workers, doctors and senior police officers, who have long argued that temazepam should be re-classified. David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum which designs healthcare programmes for addicts, described the move as "a step in the right direction".

Detective Superintendent Kevin Orr, Strathclyde Police's drugs co-ordinator, said: "Glasgow is awash with temazepam. It has become the drug of choice for many addicts and has led to a rapid increase in crime. But police officers find it hard to crack down on the problem because when we catch someone with temazepam, unless we can prove they are dealing in the drug, we cannot charge them with an offence. If temazepam were re-classified, all that would change and we would begin to tackle this epidemic."

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