In January, Local Democracy Reporting Service journalist Joseph Anderson uncovered the true death toll in Edinburgh directly linked to street supply of tablets – which claimed more lives than heroin.
In response to written questions asked by Conservative Lothians list MSP Miles Briggs, Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, Police Scotland’s Edinburgh Divisional Commander, vowed that his officers would be prioritising operations to disrupt the production and supply of the drug “using all means at their disposal”.
And David Williams, a former nurse and now a community manager at the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership, has revealed how dangerous ‘street’ pills can be.
He warned: “Benzodiazepines are increasingly prevalent, and probably a driver of drug-related deaths.
“We are very worried about them, they are very dangerous, and often fatal, particularly in combination with other drugs, or alcohol.
“They also cause a lot of accidents, due to users being physically uncoordinated, or mentally impaired, and causing them to be unable to look after their own safety.
“They also cause people’s behaviour, mood and thinking to change and for them to act in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise.
“They are increasingly shown in our drug-related deaths, and in our toxicology reports, so more people whom we’re treating are using benzodiazepines than historically.
“The tablets have unknown drugs in them and are constantly changing so users have little knowledge of what they are taking.
“The tablets will have unknown intended amounts, will have varying amounts and the way they are produced means they will release the active substance at different rates.”
Benzodiazepines can cause respiratory arrest – they essentially slow the body down to the point that vital functions stop.
They can also cause aspiration vomit, where a person is so inhibited that their gag reflex doesn’t respond to vomit in the airways, causing them to choke to death.
Other unwelcome side effects of benzodiazepines are amnesia, where drug users experience ‘black outs’, and risk-taking behaviour.
The anti-anxiety qualities of these drugs can cause a distortion of perceived risk – drug users find themselves taking part in risky, dangerous or criminal behaviour, seemingly unaware of the potential consequences.
All of these effects are worsened by the interaction of benzodiazepines with other substances.
Mr Williams added: “They also cause people’s behaviour, mood and thinking to change and for them to act in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise.
“Our treatment services are always keen to offer support, advice and help both to people using drugs or affected by someone else’s use – we can be reached at edinburghadp.co.uk.”
In his response to concerns raised Mr Briggs, Chief Supt Scott wrote: "The pervasive nature of illicit benzodiazepines is one of the primary factors driving abuse on an unprecedented scale in Scotland and causing a commensurate increase in the resultant harms.
“We will relentlessly dis-incentivise involvement in such markets by targeting drug suppliers who profiteer from the exploitation of the vulnerable by all means at our disposal. However, we also recognise the importance of adopting a trauma-informed public health approach."