One person died a month due to drugs across East Renfrewshire

New government figures show 11 people died in the area in 2018
New government figures show 11 people died in the area in 2018

Drug deaths in East Renfrewshire almost tripled last year as so called ‘street blues’ are on the rise, writes Drew Sandelands, Local Democracy Reporter.

New government figures show 11 people died in the area in 2018, compared to four in the year before.

This is the highest number of deaths per year recorded in the statistics, which stretch back to 2008.

Street benzodiazepines, which are often combined with heroin or methadone, were present in eight of the 11 deaths.

In all of the eight cases, the benzodiazepine was etizolam, which is stronger than prescription benzodiazepines, such as valium, and has caused issues across Scotland.

Dr Carole Hunter, lead pharmacist for addictions with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “Illicit benzos is a changing trend. It’s implicated in most of the drug deaths in Glasgow. There is a rise in benzos.

“What is in them one day could be fine but then the next day it is not. People don’t know what’s in them and they’re cheap. They have never been cheaper than they are now.”

Heroin or morphine were involved in four of the 11 deaths in East Renfrewshire, with methadone present in two. Two deaths involved cocaine while one included alcohol and ecstasy was present in another.

Police officers recently seized tens of thousands of etizolam tablets – pills often known as ‘street valium’ or ‘street blues’ – in Newton Mearns. A report in June revealed the force had made a “substantial recovery” of 17,000 etizolam tablets.

Chief Inspector John McQuilter, area commander for East Renfrewshire, told councillors “quite a number of drug related deaths across Scotland have been linked” to etizolam.

“It’s impacting on people’s lives quite significantly,” he said at the time.

Drug related deaths in East Renfrewshire had previously hit a high of eight in 2015, with lows of three in 2011 and 2013.

However, figures in East Renfrewshire remain low compared to other areas of the country.

In Glasgow, shocking statistics show an increase of 45 per cent in drug related deaths from 192 in 2017 to 280 last year. Street benzodiazepines were present in 191 of the deaths.

Last month, the city’s police force revealed it had recovered 100,000 pills from a single vehicle stop and search in the Pollok area in February. Officers arrested two men linked to the operation.

East Renfrewshire’s progress with helping drug users was praised at a recent council meeting as a report showed an increase in the percentage of people moving from drug treatment to recovery – from 12 per cent in 2017/18 to 22 per cent in 2018/19. This equates to 364 moving to recovery services.

Councillor Jim Swift said the figures were “tremendously positive”. “I think that’s an extraordinary leap forward and is a very positive news story,” he added.