A Paisley charity which has helped hundreds of people battling with addiction in Renfrewshire fears the warning about “stronger than usual” street Valium could result in more deaths as users could seek it out.
Bosses at Street Connect, which was set up in Paisley in December 2020, worried some drug users will be drawn to the potency of the pills which are thought to be behind nine tragic deaths in the area within just weeks.
The stark warning from health agencies is urging drug users to take extra precautions when taking substances, and to be “wary” of any unknown tablets.
Drug deaths in Renfrewshire have worsened in the last five years and have tripled as numbers soar to a record high.
A tragic 67 people died as a result of drugs in the area in 2020, rocketing from a previous high of 50 in 2018.
Of the 2018 deaths, 68 per cent of those deaths are attributed to Class-C drug Etizolam – known as street Valium – which the report highlights as “the story of Renfrewshire’s drug-related deaths”.
David Connell, at Street Connect says street Valium is a “major problem” on the streets of Renfrewshire.
He said: “We know of two or three people this year alone that have died. The situation is just dire.
“People need to be very vigilant about the drugs they are taking on the streets.
“The issue is when people in addiction hear about drugs like this, they think they must be really strong and they feel they need to get some.
“When it’s reality it could kill them. That is the harsh picture of addiction.”
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Street Connect has been working with hundreds of people in the community since being set up in the town in 2020.
Teaming up with Life Church in Paisley’s Moss Street, staff and volunteers at Street Connect strive to give people struggling with addiction hope and opportunity to change their lives.
As well as working with hundreds of people living with addiction issues, the charity has been engaging with more than 1,500 people on the streets of Renfrewshire.
Following the spate of deaths throughout the area in recent weeks, David is calling for all drug charities and agencies in the local authority to work together to help prevent more people from dying.
David added: “We think it is really important that we build communication with other networks in the area as a lot of the people we support are also getting help from other agencies too.
“No individual organization can do anything to fix this crisis on its own.
“We are keen to partner with other agencies in the area to help people as much as we can.”
“If we can save 10, 20, 50, 100 lives, it is far better than not doing anything at all.”
Renfrewshire Drugs Service is another agency in the area which supports people living with addiction as well as Renfrewshire ADP, which is a partnership consisting of the council, health and social care partnership (HSCP), Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue, Scottish Prison Service and the voluntary sector.
There are a number of ways people who use drugs can engage with health and social care services in order to access treatment and support.
These services are available to people regardless of which drugs they are using. In Renfrewshire, they can contact their GP, other services like housing which are already providing support to them, or the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Service.
Politicians across Renfrewshire have also called for action following the spate of drug deaths and have said the tragedy must serve as a “wake-up call” to deal with the crisis.
MSPs for the local authority have said the grim figures show there must be work done across the political divide to tackle the health crisis of drugs in the community.
Labor MSP for West Scotland Neil Bibby said: “The news that the recent spate of drug deaths in Renfrewshire has now reached nine is first and foremost a tragedy for those victims of drugs and for their families and loved ones. I offer my sincere condolences to those affected.
This must serve as a wake-up call. Scotland has the highest incidence of drug-related deaths in Europe, and Renfrewshire is sadly very far from immune.
“The drugs crisis is not a partisan issue – across society and across the political divide we need to work together to tackle this public health emergency which is shining so many people. We need a new public health approach to drug policy that focuses on rehabilitation, recovery and treatment. If Etizolam is linked to these cases then it reinforces the need for the authorities to adapt to the changing patterns of drug misuse in our community.”
Scottish Conservative shadow community safety minister and West Scotland MSP Russell Findlay said: “Every single life lost to drugs in Renfrewshire is a tragedy and it is entirely proper that Scotland’s record as the drugs death capital of Europe is being treated as a public health emergency.
“My party’s proposed Right to Recovery Bill would guarantee treatment for those with addiction problems.
“But we cannot lose sight of the vital role played by police in targeting the organized criminals who prey on the most vulnerable people in our society.”
The Express contacted Paisley SNP MSP George Adam and Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP Mhairi Black, but neither responded to our request for comment.
READ MORE ON OUR RENFREWSHIRE DRUGS CRISIS SPECIAL REPORT:
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.