Scotland in grip of drugs crisis as more than 1,000 die every year with deadly pills costing less than Mars bar

More than 1,000 people have died from drugs in one year in Scotland for the first time – and the crisis is seemingly fuelled by a pill sold for less than a chocolate bar.

ITV News understands statistics set to be published next month will show drug deaths in the country have hit a record high.

While figures from England and Wales have stabilised in recent years, drug deaths have doubled in the past decade in Scotland and are accelerating.

In almost two thirds of these deaths, the sedative benzodiazepine was found in the bloodstream.

These so-called "Street Valiums" can be bought for just 30p per pill, even somewhere as crowded and busy as central Glasgow during rush hour.

The crisis also raises questions over Scotland’s treatment of addicts as almost half the people who died in Scotland’s drug capital Dundee had methadone in the bloodstream.

These are people receiving treatment for addiction who are dying in record numbers.

The Scottish Government says it is putting together a drug taskforce to look into the crisis.

  • Why the pills are so dangerous

The drug can stop users breathing. Credit: ITV News

Pills vary in strength and there is no way of users knowing for sure what they are taking as batches can be made from different drugs of different potency.

When mixed with heroin, methadone, or something as readily available as alcohol, they can be lethal.

They suppress the respiratory system – meaning the user could just stop breathing.

Experts say these drugs are far more commonplace in Scotland than elsewhere and are particularly popular among problem drug-users, who mix them as part of a cocktail of substances.

There were 3,756 deaths related to drug poisoning in England in Wales in 2017, slightly up from 3,744 the year before, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The National Records of Scotland reports there were 934 drug-related deaths in 2017, which is an increase of 66 (8%) from 2016.

This was the largest number ever recorded, and 479 (105%) higher than the figure for 2007, which was 455.

To put this into context, in England and Wales there were 66.1 drug-poisoning deaths per million in the population in 2017.

There were 140 in Scotland on average between 2013 and 2017.

One addict told ITV News she has no intention of quitting despite losing six friends in the past three weeks.

Paula Clare says she gets “unbearable pains” in her stomach and feels sick when she doesn’t use them.

“You see when you don’t have them, you can’t look anyone in the eye… there’s something in them that’s different from normal Valium,” Paula said.

“You’ve got to get them or you can’t function right.”

Paula Clare says she has no intention of quitting. Credit: ITV News

Another user, who did not want to give his name, said he had had “80 pills already” when we spoke to him.

He claimed you can get pills easily and that they keep him “level-headed”.

Other users said most people take between 20-30 pills at a time to get a buzz.

ITV News filmed in central Glasgow where dealers offered our crew pills during rush hour in front of big crowds - 50 for £20 or 25 for £10.

They’re just as accessible outside the city, even around 20 miles east of Inverness in rural Moray, were the pills can be ordered online.

Dr Craig McKenzie from Dundee University compared the killer pills to “Russian roulette” because each one can greatly vary in substance in strength despite appearing identical.

Minister for public health, sport and wellbeing Joe FitzPatrick says users must be supported. Credit: ITV News

Minister for health and Dundee MSP Joe FitzPatrick said: "Even across Scotland there are differences in terms of the drug use, we need to make sure that we're able to provide appropriate support."

He said the Government "absolutely" needs to look at how support can be provided and added: "That is why I am setting up the expert group, to look at what more we can do."

He promised: "If I can save one life I will do"