Street drugs being sold as Valium have been linked to an “unprecedented” number of fatal overdoses in Glasgow.
Health chiefs fear that “street Valium”, also known as “street blues” may be connected to a sharp rise in the number of drug deaths in the city.
There was a 43% rise in the number of people who died of drugs overdoses in January to October last year, compared with the same period in 2017.
An increasing number of people were also treated for non-fatal overdoses at hospitals and by crisis services across the city, they said.
Reported use of Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose, have also increased.
Saket Priyadarshi, associate medical director at NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde addiction services, said he was “very concerned”.
He said: “When people buy street blues, they do not know what is in the pills.
“The quality and dosage can be very variable. People might think they are taking Diazepam but it may be other much more potent benzodiazepines such as Etizolam.
“The use of this drug in particular is associated with severe harm – from non-fatal overdoses and presentations to emergency departments to fatalities.
“It is particularly dangerous when used in combination with other drugs like heroin and even prescribed methadone.
“Although final toxicology is not yet available on the recent deaths in Glasgow, all the evidence suggests that the use of street blues is associated with the worrying trend of increasing drug-related deaths.”
Dealers are said to be selling it for “pennies” to vulnerable people, including those in settled homelessness accommodation, where staff have witnessed a spate of deaths linked to the drug.
Susanne Millar, chair of Glasgow’s Alcohol & Drug Partnership, said: “Glasgow is currently experiencing an unprecedented number of fatal and non-fatal overdoses believed to be linked to the use of street Valium, although we won’t know conclusively until we have all the toxicology.
“People are dicing with death by taking this drug, particularly if it is mixed with alcohol and other drugs. Warnings have been issued to people by homelessness and addictions services but, sadly, dealers are targeting the most vulnerable.
“A number of deaths have taken place among residents of settled homeless accommodation which is tragic and very unusual.
“Support is being offered to frontline staff who are being confronted by human tragedies when going to check on service users.”
A gang was recently jailed for producing about £1.6 million worth of street Valium at a garage in Paisley, Renfrewshire, where police seized a pill press capable of producing 250,000 tablets an hour.
Chief inspector Michael Duddy said: “Police Scotland in Glasgow continues to work with health and social care partners as part of the Glasgow City Alcohol and Drug Partnership to monitor and respond to drug trends including incidences of suspected drug-related deaths in order to inform care, treatment and police activity.”