Like many of my constituents, I am concerned at reports that recently within a period of two weeks earlier this summer, nine people in Saltcoats died after taking fake valium - known also by its generic name of diazepam - often in combination with methadone. The pills are dyed blue to look like valium and at 50p each are affordable for even those with the lowest incomes. The fact that distributors are able to charge a low price indicates the level of profit on each pill.
The pills are reportedly being taken by those who are already dependent on drugs or methadone which exacerbates the risks.
I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, as well as the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Shona Robison MSP to ask what action the SNP Government is taking regarding this specific issue.
The Justice Secretary reassured me that Police Scotland continues its focus on reducing the supply of controlled drugs in North Ayrshire and across Scotland, in addition to working closely with the SNP Government and other partners to reduce the demand for controlled and illicit drugs.
Police action has led to a large number of illicit substances being removed from circulation. Last year across Scotland over 1.2 million valium/diazepam tablets were seized. Mr Matheson has advised that one operation last February led to the confiscation of over 750,000 tablets.
Of course this is a public health as much as a criminal matter. The Health Secretary responded to my letter advising that the death of any individual is taken very seriously, particularly when it comes as the result of substance misuse.
Thankfully, drug taking is falling and it is heartening that the number of young people taking drugs is at its lowest level in a decade. The national drugs strategy, The Road to Recovery, was put in place to help individuals, families and communities affected by drugs recover. Since 2008, the SNP Government has invested over £630 million to tackle drug and alcohol misuse, with £574 million provided via Health Boards to local Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships (ADP) for investment in local prevention, treatment and recovery support services.
Drug offences across North Ayrshire have declined year on year under the SNP, from 1,235 in 2006/7 to 671 last year, a fall of 45.7%, with a 13% decline in the lasty year alone. Crimes associated with drug taking, such as robbery and housebreaking have fallen 63.1% and 35% respectively whilst attempted murder and serious assault is down from 250 to 93 cases a 62.9% decline.
The SNP Government works closely with Police Scotland over its Choices for Life programme, which aims to keep young people informed on the dangers surrounding substance used and helping them make the right choices.
Ayrshire ADP (www.naadp.com) is well aware of the distribution and use of fake valium pills and alongside NHS Ayrshire and Arran, Police Scotland and the Scottish Drugs Forum they have been doing their utmost to alert people at risk to the dangers of these pills. Such efforts included the production of an information leaflet, a poster campaign to be displayed in treatment services and efforts on social and mainstream media.
Although it is heartening to know that so many organisations are pulling together to prevent further deaths, it is most important that we all stay vigilant and avoid medicines that are not prescribed to us. Unless a drug has been prescribed by a doctor, it is impossible to tell whether it is genuine and what it contains. Even if it is just one pill, it could be the one that kills you.