Street valium blamed for 'unprecedented' spike in drugs deaths
Street drugs being sold as valium are responsible for an unprecedented number of drug-related deaths in Glasgow, experts have warned.
Early data shows there was a 43% rise in the number of people who died of drugs overdoses from January to October last year, compared with 2017.
An increasing number of drug-users were also treated for non-fatal overdoses across the city.
One expert warned that people who use the drug were "dicing with death".
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They believe that a recent spate of deaths among people in settled homeless accommodation could be linked to the drug but toxicology results are not yet available.
Warnings have been issued to known drugs users about the risk posed by the pills, especially if they are taken with other illegal substances like heroin or prescribed opiates.
However frontline drugs workers say dealers are flooding Scotland with so-called "street blues", producing it quickly, in vast quantities and "selling it for pennies".
Susanne Millar, chairwoman of Glasgow's Alcohol and Drug Partnership, said: "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."
In addition to the deaths, there has also been an increase in reported use of naloxone, an antidote that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose.
It is supplied to drug users and trained relatives and friends
Saket Priyadarshi, associate medical director at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Addiction Services, fears "street blues" are a factor in the vast majority of fatal drug overdoses in the city.
He said: "I have been very concerned about the use of street blues for some time now. When people buy street blues, they do not know what is in the pills.
"The quality and dosage can be very variable."
Dr Priyadarshi said people might think they were taking diazepam but it might be other much more potent benzodiazepines, such as Etizolam.
He added: "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."
Last month, a drugs gang was jailed for producing at least £1.6m worth of street valium on an industrial scale in a garage in Paisley.
The court heard that police raided the garage and seized a pill press capable of producing 250,000 tablets an hour.