Edinburgh police commander vows to 'relentlessly' target pill dealers selling street Valium

Edinburgh’s most senior police officer has promised to ‘relentlessly’ target benzodiazepines dealers ‘who profiteer from the exploitation of the vulnerable’ - as new figures show the drug is involved in more capital drug deaths than heroin.

Chief Superintendent Sean Scott has vowed to crackdown on benzo dealers
Chief Superintendent Sean Scott has vowed to crackdown on benzo dealers

In the last 10 years the number of drug related deaths has more than doubled in Edinburgh and the Lothians from 73 deaths in 2010 to 155 deaths in 2019.

The number of drug related deaths which involved heroin and/or morphine in Lothian has risen from 56 in 2018 to 69 in 2019.

Drug related deaths involving benzodiazepines, such as diazepam or etizolam, rose from 94 in 2018 to 109 in 2019, with illicit ‘street’ benzodiazepines contributing to 69 and 85 of those deaths respectively.

Killer pills: Benzodiazepines

However, opiates, including heroin, morphine, codeine and methadone, still contribute to more drug deaths in the city than any other family of drugs, such as benzodiazepines, with 126 overdoses in 2019 involving opiates.

Now, Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, divisional commander for Edinburgh, has vowed to tackle the supply.

In response to concerns raised by the Lothian region MSP Miles Briggs, he wrote: “Whilst the vast majority of drug related deaths continue to be attributable to opioid related toxicity, the issue of polypharmacy and multiple substances acting in concert to deleterious effect is of grave concern.

“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.”

The Chief Superintendent also wrote that in response to the ‘significant health harms associated with street benzodiazepine’, his force would be prioritising activity to disrupt the production and supply of the drug.

His letter continues: “The Central Initiative Team, which is responsible for dealing with organised city centre criminality, is working alongside the proactive branch of our Criminal Investigation Department to address benzodiazepine supply through targeted intelligence led enforcement activity, whilst our Prevention, Interventions and Partnerships team are focused on engagement of users at high risk of harm to support and signpost them into recovery services.

“The VOW engagement team (police officers experienced in working with repeat offenders and marginalised communities) are supported by the third sector organisation, Aid and Abet, which provides mentors with lived experience of addiction and can often gain traction with individuals who are reluctant to engage with police.

“This approach is further enhanced by effective information sharing with stakeholders including NHS Lothian, the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership and a range of third sector agencies to address emerging threats and harms.

“We will relentlessly disincentivise 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.”

Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said: “Every single drug death in Scotland is a tragedy and it is deeply concerning that the number of drug related deaths has risen year on year.

“I welcome the joint approach of working with other agencies to support users at high risk into recovery services.

“The Scottish Conservatives have called on a £20m Scottish Recovery Fund, to shift the focus from methadone prescriptions to drug rehabilitation programmes.”

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