Slaughter by the needle: Drugs have become the main cause of death among Glasgow youngsters

John Arlidge
Saturday 07 May 1994 23:02

THEY call them jellies, eggs, tems and smack. Teenagers spend 20 hours a day stealing to buy them. These youngsters crave drugs even though they have seen the bodies of their brothers, sisters and friends slumped next to syringes and know they could be the next to die. Most cannot stop.

Drugs are destroying a generation of youngsters in Glasgow. In the post-war housing estates that surround the city centre, heroin, tranquillisers and sleeping pills kill more young people than anything else. Last year more than 100 addicts died and the figure so far this year is 30.

Drug abuse and drugs-related deaths are higher in Glasgow than in any other British city. Welfare workers, researchers and addicts agree that poverty and unemployment - which is more than 50 per cent among men on some East End estates - are to blame for the high levels of abuse. But there is division over why so many addicts are dying. After the bodies of seven users were found in one week in February - three within 12 hours - Strathclyde Police issued a warning that dealers had introduced a batch of highly concentrated heroin.

Drugs squad officers urged users to test their pounds 20 'score bags' before 'jagging' to prevent overdoses.

Officers believe that some dealers use heroin up to 70 per cent pure as a 'cynical ploy' to increase their share of the lucrative drugs market.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Orr, head of Strathclyde drugs squad, said: 'Drugs are big business and dealers treat heroin as a consumer product, selling it in exactly the same way as, say, a stallholder sells food.

'From time to time, suppliers, who compete with one another, introduce pure heroin as a 'loss-leader'. In the short- term they know they will lose money because pure heroin is expensive and customers who take to much of the stuff will die. But in the long-term, they know they will make big profits because they will have created new addicts and the word will go round thay they have the strongest drugs.'

Some welfare workers say there is anecdotal evidence to support Mr Orr's claims but addicts dismiss his suggestion. They point to the growing popularity of drug 'cocktails' - mainly heroin and sedatives such as Temazepam - to explain the rising death toll.

Alan, 22, from the Gorbals, who started taking heroin when he was 15, said: 'The heroin is so crap here now that if there was any good stuff around we would know about it and people would buy it and use it. The super-concentrated heroin line is just a story that the police use to try to scare young people off drugs and to make addicts take care when preparing their hit.

'It's the mixing that is killing people. Cocktails give you a better hit. You take jellies (sleeping pills and Temazepam) with heroin, sometimes in the same syringe. If you mix all that with pain killers like codeine and alcohol, your whole system slows down. If you take too much, you lapse into a coma. That's when your friends find you the next morning.'

Glasgow's 'slaughter by needle' began 15 years ago when London suppliers first targeted the city. Welfare workers describe a 'bumper crop' of high quality heroin reaching the streets around 1980. Its arrival coincided with a sharp downturn in the city's economic fortunes.

Although they concede it is impossible to stop heroin reaching the streets, welfare agencies hope that a new scheme to persuade addicts to give up the syringe will help to reduce demand.

In January Greater Glasgow Health Board announced that it would encourage GPs to prescribe methadone, a heroin substitute, to addicts. A similar scheme in Edinburgh has reduced the number of injecting users and has also led to a sharp reduction in drugs-related crime.

Critics, however, say methadone, which is highly addictive, does not help addicts come off drugs and creates a new cycle of dependency. Many heroin addicts disagree. John, 28, whose girlfriend Jacqueline died from a heroin overdose and who has just started on a methadone programme, said: 'I already feel far better. Heroin puggles your mind. You can't do anything when you are on it but with methadone you feel more normal.

'You don't crave heroin and jellies, which is like a madness. You don't have to go thieving to buy score bags. After serving a prison sentence for supplying heroin and losing the mother of my daughter, I think for the first that I can get my life back together.'

(Photograph omitted)

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