AN URGENT rethink in terms of treatment for Scots with an addiction to street valium is needed, according to the Scottish Drugs Forum.

Last month’s drug statistics showed benzodiazepines such as diazepam and etizolam were implicated in, or potentially contributed, to 792 deaths – 67% of the total number who died of overdoses in 2018.

But while treatment programmes are available to opium addictions, which contributed to 86% of deaths, medication is often not prescribed for those seeking help with a street valium addiction. It has been suggested that treatment could include a legitimate prescription, which is gradually reduced under medical supervision. However, it is claimed that this is often not being offered. Addiction experts claim doctors became reluctant to prescribe valium after it emerged on the black market several years ago due to the high it gave when combined with opiate drugs. It is argued the tightening of prescriptions may have led to the rise of the black market street versions. Strips of blue pills, usually etizolam, are now widely available and cost just pennies per tablet.

In January this year, Glasgow City Council put out a warning about the number of people dying after taking the drug. More than 20 people died in a matter of weeks, most of whom were living in homeless accommodation or were on the streets.

The Sunday National spoke to one Glasgow user who claimed he was refused a prescription to help him to come off benzodiazepines, which left him feeling he might as well have been told to “go home and die”.

Dave Liddell of the Scottish Drug Forum said: “The vast majority of fatal overdose deaths in Scotland are as a result of polydrug use. In Scotland, this is predominantly the use of heroin, or other opioids, in combination with benzodiazepines (so-called street valium) and also, frequently, alcohol. While benzodiazepines have always been part of this polydrug use, the last few years have seen significantly greater availability and use. Over recent years, there has been a move away from prescribing benzodiazepines to people with a long-term polydrug use problem. This position has resulted in a rethink by clinicians – on the basis of the need to get a person’s street drug use under control through the prescribing of benzodiazepines. This rethink has yet to translate into a widespread change in practice, but there is an urgent need for it to so.”

Professor Catriona Matheson of Drugs Research Network hosted by Stirling University said it was currently putting together a proposal to test attitudes towards giving a prescription that could be reduced slowly.

Matheson, who is also chairing the Scottish Government drug death task force added: “We are at a stage now where we are considering whether we need to set up a trial.”

But Hugh Hill of homeless charity Simon Scotland, which has lost 26 of its service users to drug overdoses this year so far, said: “ While attempting to replacing street valium with prescribed Diazepam could be seen as the lesser of two evils it may simply contribute to the polysubstance experience we’re already seeing.”