Deadly craving for 'jellies' leads to crime wave

John Arlidge explains why demand for temazepam has sparked a drugs craze

John Arlidge
Friday 18 August 1995 23:02
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On the streets of Glasgow, they call them "jellies" or "wobbly eggs". Addicts crave these gel-filled temazepam capsules, which if melted down and injected, give a euphoric rush. Mix the yellow pills with heroin in a drugs cocktail and the buzz is even bigger and better.

In Strathclyde, where there are more drug addicts per head of population than anywhere else in Europe, temazepam has become the most widely-abused legal, prescription drug. The tablets cost just 3p to manufacture but addicts buy them for up to pounds 3 - a 1,000 per cent mark up for the growing band of dealers who walk the streets with pockets bulging with "jellies".

The temazepam epidemic began in Glasgow 10 years ago when dealers flooded the area with millions of tablets and capsules bought illegally from manufacturers. Now it has spread to Merseyside, Manchester and Tyneside where drug workers report an increasing number of addicts are taking the drug.

In Scotland temazepam has changed the landscape of drug abuse and crime. As its abuse has increased, the number of deaths and amputations has risen sharply. Last year, 97 addicts died in Glasgow after mixing temazepam with other drugs, mainly heroin. This year's figure is set to top 100 for the first time.

At the same time, the level of drugs-related crime has mushroomed. Earlier this year five men were murdered in Paisley, near Glasgow, in shooting and stabbings orchestrated by underworld drugs bosses. Only last week police discovered the severed head of 36-year-old Mick Doherty in a bog near Glasgow. He had been hacked to death in what is thought to be a drugs- related revenge killing.

The rising death toll and crime rate has prompted community leaders and health workers to urge the Government to ban temazepam. Two years ago the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which studied the epidemic in Strathclyde, said the sedative should be re-classified to make it illegal to possess without a prescription, and much harder to obtain.

Scottish Office ministers and the Department of Health failed to act until last May when Lord Fraser, then Scottish health minister, announced new restrictions on the prescription of the drug.

He urged GPs to stop prescribing the gel-filled capsules, which are easy to melt down and inject, and ordered manufacturers to step up security to ensure that dealers could not buy large quantities of the drug.

But gel-filled capsules are still turning up on the streets of Glasgow and last month leading manufacturers said that Whitehall officials had still not contacted them to discuss improved security measures.

One leading pharmaceutical firm said: "All we know is what we have read in the papers or seen in House of Commons answers. It is business as usual."

Faced with growing problems of drug abuse and crime in their constituencies, Scottish Labour MPs have now decided to act themselves.

John McFall's Private Member's Bill, which seeks to reclassify temazepam restricting its supply, is the latest attempt to force the Government to ban the drug outright. Its supporters, including Irene Adams, the Paisley North MP, who was threatened by drug dealers after pledging to wage war on temazepam earlier this year, say it will test ministers' determination to tackle the issue.

Although Mr McFall's Bill stands little chance of getting through Parliament, he hopes that it will attract enough support to embarrass ministers into introducing legislation.

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