More than 30 people are suspected to have died from drugs in Dundee in the last six months.
And the Tele can reveal that more than half of them had cheap but lethal tablets known as ‘street Valium’ in their system.
A special investigation has revealed that police have dealt with at least 31 suspected drug deaths in the city since April.
That’s just seven short of the total for the whole of 2016/17. Many of those who died were men in their 30s.
Of those who died, 17 had the drug etizolam, also known as ‘street Valium’, in their systems.
Only heroin played a bigger part in the deaths — having a presence in 21 of them.
Etizolam was legal until just 18 months ago, when a crackdown on legal highs made it illegal to deal the drug.
The Tele has previously told how drugs experts feared the city was being flooded with the tablets, which can be bought cheaply, but the impact the pills are having on local people can now be revealed.
The drug was previously available in the form of blue tablets, similar to normal Valium or diazepam, but is now reported to come in the form of a white tablet which can be bought for less than a pound a pill.
Of the fatalities, 12 were men aged between 30 and 39. The youngest drugs victim was a 24-year-old man, with a 51-year-old man the oldest.
Eight of the deaths involved women, mainly in their 40s.
Diazepam was present in the systems of six people at the time of death, with methadone involved in 12.
Cannabis was in eight people’s systems, with cocaine and alcohol involved in five deaths.
Police said that many of the people who died would likely have had a cocktail of drugs in their systems.
Once toxicology tests and post mortems have taken place, investigators will form a professional medical opinion on what the primary cause of death was.
Dave Barrie, an expert with the Dundee-based charity Addaction, said the figures were “extremely concerning”.
He said: “It’s difficult to tell at this stage what the total for the year will be.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the final figure will be higher than last year, but based on these figures we would be extremely concerned. Heroin has always been a particular problem in Dundee but etizolam is currently an issue as well.
“There is a large group of people in Dundee who regularly use heroin but we are aware that people are also using etizolam, or street Valium.
“This can be particularly dangerous because people don’t know the strength or the purity of what they are taking. It is also very accessible and very cheap.”
Dave says the drug has a sedative effect — encouraging takers to do things they might not do otherwise. He added: “People could take higher risks including taking more drugs, mixing drugs and taking alcohol with drugs.
“We are aware that many of those who have died in a drug-related death were using multiple drugs at the time of death.”
Etizolam can be lethal when taken with other depressants
According to drugs advice service Frank, etizolam is used as a medicine in Japan and India to treat anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks — but isn’t licensed as a medicine in the UK.
Effects include the slowing down of the body and brain, sleepiness and drowsiness, a loss of coordination, and a decrease in a person’s breathing.
The drug can lead to death, especially if mixed with other depressant drugs such as alcohol that slow the nervous system.
The drug is sold in tablet form but was also available in pellet form when it was a so-called legal high, while some users may crush it down and inject it as a powder.
The drug was outlawed in the UK in May last year, when the Government brought in the Psychoactive Substances Act, which made a whole host of previously-legal substances illegal to supply or import for human consumption.
Frank says that etizolam has been shown to cause short-term memory loss.
Bigger doses can make a user forgetful and overly sleepy, and the drug is highly-addictive.
Those who do become addicted to the drug can experience nasty withdrawal symptoms including vomiting, panic attacks and depression.
The advice service also says of the drug: “If the etizolam has been prescribed by a doctor and obtained from a pharmacy, the purity will be very high and the doses consumed will be predictable.
“If it has been sourced illegally you cannot be sure what is in it and what affect it will have.”
A number of cases have emerged across the UK in recent years where a person has died after apparently taking just one of the pills.
A rise in drug deaths across Scotland last year was also linked to a rise in use of etizolam and similar drugs such as diazepam, which can be bought cheaply.