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Addicts' abuse of sleeping pill brings call
for tough curbs: Gangrene, amputation
can follow mainlining
August 15, 1993
by David Taylor
Drug abuse advisers have recommended that the Home Office introduces stricter controls on a popular sleeping pill which has caused gangrene and subsequent amputation when injected by addicts.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs wants to see controls on temazepam tightened so that it would become a criminal offence to be found in possession without a prescription.
Home Secretary Michael Howard is expected to take a decision on the drug's status before the end of the year. While Mr Howard considers the issue, it has emerged that some young night-clubbers have begun using temazepam.
A Merseyside drug agency has revealed that 'temazzies' are increasingly being used at raves and clubs by people seeking a come-down from other drugs, such as ecstasy. The drug acts as a sedative, but also provides a hit, reducing inhibitions and boosting confidence. However, it is addictive and, when injected, can cause artery blockages which have led to gangrene and amputation.
Most of the temazepam abused by addicts or clubbers is obtained legally by prescription. Anecdotal evidence from doctors and police suggests some pensioners top up their income by selling their sleeping pills to addicts.
Temazepam is from the benzodiazepine family, which includes Valium and Ativan. In 1991, 15.7 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines were issued in England and temazepam is the market leader. Temazepam is a schedule four drug under the 1985 Misuse of Drugs Regulations. Although its production and supply have to be authorised, it is not an offence to be in possession of temazepam when it is in the form of a medicine.
The advisory council is recommending temazepam should be made a schedule three drug, which would mean it would have to be locked away by pharmacists. Police would get new powers to take action against misusers for possession without a prescription, an offence which would carry a maximum prison sentence of two years.
Temazepam used to come in liquid form, but in the mid-Eighties, manufacturers began to produce it as a candlewax-like gel to make it more difficult to inject.
However, abusers have continued to inject temazepam, heating the gel until it becomes liquid. Gangrene and subsequent amputation can result because the injected substance can resolidify, causing blood clotting and thrombosis.
Dr Susan Ruben, clinical director of the Liverpool drugs dependency clinic, said: 'I have never understood why temazepam capsules cannot be withdrawn, but apparently legally that is very difficult to do. 'I'm not suggesting that, if there were no temazepam available, no intravenous drug misusers would end up in hospital, but we could perhaps reduce the numbers who are destroying their health.'
New research from the National Addiction Centre indicates that a little more than half of the people in a nationwide sample of 200 injecting drug abusers had used benzodiazepines, of which temazepam was by far the most commonly-used choice.
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