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Sleeping drug is new big killer

Scottish Daily Mail
January 26, 2000
by Pauline McInnes

Disturbing new research has revealed that the sleeping drug Temazepam is one of the major causes of drug deaths in Scotland. Law enforcement agencies yesterday admitted the problem in the West of Scotland, especially Glasgow, was worse than anywhere else in Britain. One in three people who died from drugs last year were found to have taken Temazepam. It was believed the shocking rise in the number of drugs deaths to 148 in Strathclyde last year was caused by heroin.

However, leading toxicologist Dr John Oliver claimed Temazepam was one of the main causes of death and said the number of addicts taking the drug was likely to escalate. Dr Oliver told BBC's Frontline Scotland programme last night: 'Approximately a third of all of last year's drug deaths involved Temazepam. And of the actual deaths themselves, at least 20 per cent had Temazepam as a very significant contributor to the cause of death.' Dr Oliver said he wanted to see Temazepam banned. He added: 'Heroin is still the biggest killer, but if we can eliminate the Temazepam-related deaths, we can reduce the number of drug deaths by 20 per cent.'

Frontline Scotland investigators watched Temazepam being smuggled from the Continent - where it can be bought over the counter - and targeted specifically for West of Scotland addicts. The Frontline Scotland programme followed Interpol to track the journey of massive consignments of Temazepam from the manufacturing base in mainland Europe to their destination in a furniture warehouse on the outskirts of Glasgow. While huge amounts are heading for Scotland, the television documentary claimed only a tiny percentage was being uncovered by police and Customs.

Robert Hauschild, of Interpol in Lyon, said the problem was difficult to detect and admitted it was worse in Scotland than anywhere else. He said: 'There is high criminal energy behind this because of the huge profit they make from it. 'The production cost of Temazepam in Switzerland or Italy, for example, is 2p per capsule and it is sold in Glasgow for 1.50 or 2. It is a huge problem. We know that in other parts of the world Temazepam is also abused, but not on the scale it is in Glasgow.'

Law enforcement agencies successfully cracked down on the problem four years ago, but Dr Oliver claimed the drug was back with a vengeance. When temazepam was reclassified in 1996 and the gel form was banned, only tablets could be prescribed in Britain, and the number of drug deaths fell dramatically.

In 1995 the number of deaths in Strathclyde dropped from 102 to 84, leading the authorities to believe the problem of temazepam abuse had been solved. The drug is ideal for addicts who inject it with heroin to give themselves a stronger hit. Addicts also tend to binge on temazepam when it is available causing them to overdose, which often leads to death. Temazepam is a Class C drug and light court sentences do not deter the smugglers.

Detective Inspector Barry Dougall, Strathclyde Police's drug co-ordinator, said his officers seized 74,000 capsules of Temazepam last year. However he accepted they were only scratching the surface of the problem. He said: 'I think it's a very small proportion of the Temazepam that's on the streets. But I still think it's significant. It's estimated that enforcement areas across the United Kingdom, in fact across the world, are fortunate if they are seizing 10 per cent, of the drugs market. You've got to remember that the drugs market represents eight per cent of world trade. That's the same size of business as the oil industry globally.'

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