Dangerous nitazene drugs linked to rise in deaths

Former addict 'Leanne' warned that deaths are increasing as new synthetic opioids are found in the UK [BBC]

The National Crime Agency has revealed that a dangerous new drug has been linked to almost 176 deaths in the UK - with 47 of these in Scotland.

Nitazene is a highly potent synthetic opioid which is mixed into street drugs like heroin.

Support workers say addicts are “playing Russian roulette” because they have no idea whether nitazene has been used by their dealers.

A series of public health warnings have been issued in recent months but the death toll is rising.

Scotland already has the highest death toll from drugs in Europe.

The director general of the National Crime Agency revealed the latest figures at a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority in Glasgow.

Graeme Biggar warned that there would be more deaths that forensics have not picked up yet.

“It has the real potential to escalate and became the major cause of deaths," he said.

“We need to disrupt it as much as we can but this is hard because the drugs are cheap and small and to organised criminals, this looks like a really good way of evolving your business.

“It is hard to give any kind of assurance that we can stop this coming into the UK in a bigger way, but we need to work our hardest to make it happen as slowly as possible and as little as possible.”

Massive danger

In Edinburgh, a former drug addict who has survived nine overdoses says deaths are increasing.

The 32-year-old, who asked to be called Leanne, started using recreational drugs when she was 12 and later became addicted to heroin, valium and crack cocaine.

She has been clean for two years and now volunteers with Aid and Abet, a charity which helps drug users.

She said: “Addiction's so powerful that you'll do anything to get the drugs, whether nitazene is in it or not.

"It's like Russian roulette. You just need to get the drugs and that's it."

Aid and Abet’s co-founder Kevin Neary told BBC Scotland: "If they want to prevent more deaths, they need to get more information and more support out there.

"There's a massive danger it'll come like a tsunami."

Chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum Kirsten Horsburgh described the figures as a huge concern and said Scotland was not prepared for a major influx of nitazene.

“We’re already not managing our current public health emergency in relation to the number of drug related deaths, so this is another potential crisis on top of the one that we already have,” she said.

“What we need to see is a huge increase in harm reduction provision, a roll out of drug consumption rooms across the country and drug checking facilities introduced at pace.”

Drugs and alcohol minister Christina McKelvie said the government had invested £250m into its National Mission on drugs.

This supports those affected by drug use and backs more than 300 projects, as well as delivering a safe drugs consumption facility pilot and drug-checking facilities.

“We’re working hard to respond to the growing threat from super-strong synthetic opioids like nitazenes in an increasingly toxic and unpredictable drug supply," she said.

"Such synthetics increase the risk of overdose, hospitalisation and death and are being found in a range of substances.”