By Drew Sandelands

DRUG deaths in East Renfrewshire almost tripled last year, with so-called ‘street blues’ on the rise.

Figures released yesterday by the Scottish Government show 11 people died in the area in 2018, compared to four in the year before.

This is the highest number of deaths per year recorded in the statistics, which stretch back to 2008.

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Street benzodiazepines, which are often combined with heroin or methadone, were present in eight of the 11 deaths.

In each of the eight cases, the benzodiazepine was etizolam, which is stronger than prescription benzodiazepines, such as valium, and has caused issues across Scotland.

Dr Carole Hunter, lead pharmacist for addictions with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: “Illicit benzos are a changing trend. They’re implicated in most of the drug deaths in Glasgow. There is a rise in benzos.

“What is in them one day could be fine but then, the next day, it is not. People don’t know what’s in them and they’re cheap. They have never been cheaper than they are now.”

Heroin or morphine were involved in four of the 11 deaths in East Renfrewshire, with methadone present in two.

Two deaths involved cocaine, while one included alcohol and ecstasy was present in another.
Police officers recently seized tens of thousands of etizolam tablets – often known as ‘street valium’ or ‘the blue plague’ – in Newton Mearns.

In June, Chief Inspector John McQuilter, East Renfrewshire’s area commander, told councillors “quite a number of drug-related deaths across Scotland have been linked” to etizolam.

Drug-related deaths in East Renfrewshire had previously hit a high of eight in 2015, with lows of three in 2011 and 2013.

However, figures in East Renfrewshire remain low compared to other areas of the country.

In Glasgow, statistics show an increase of 45 per cent in drug-related deaths, from 192 in 2017 to 280 last year.

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Street benzodiazepines were present in 191 of the deaths.

Last month, police revealed they had recovered 100,000 pills from a single vehicle stop-and-search in the Pollok area in February.

Officers arrested two men linked to the operation.

East Renfrewshire’s progress with helping drug users was praised at a recent council meeting as a report showed an increase in the percentage of people moving from drug treatment to recovery, from 12 per cent in 2017/18 to 22 per cent in 2018/19.

This equates to 364 moving to recovery services.

Councillor Jim Swift said the figures were “tremendously positive.”

He added: “I think that’s an extraordinary leap forward and is a very positive news story.”