More than five million ‘street valium’ tablets were were seized by Police Scotland last year, as the amount of heroin recovered by cops rose by 80%.
Officers recovered 5.3 million benzodiazepine pills in 2019/20 – more than double the amount seized the previous year and the highest number in a six-year period.
Most of the blue tablets were made up of etizolam, the lethal synthetic substance linked to hundreds of Scotland’s drug deaths.
A Drug Seizures and Offender Characteristics report also revealed the amount of heroin seized by police rose by 80% year on year, from 127 kilograms to 225kg.
The Scottish Government report showed etizolam was the second most seized drug over the two years, with herbal cannabis taking the top spot with the largest seizure amount.
The so-called “designer” drug was previously regarded as a legal high but was criminalised in 2017 under an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act.
“Street” benzos such as etizolam accounted for 879 deaths in 2020.
According to the figures it accounted for 94% of all benzodiazepine pills seized by officers.
The Scottish Drugs Forum said the figures reflect what they are seeing elsewhere and called for a move away from policing to a more treatment-based approach.
Forum chief executive David Liddell said: “These police seizure figures reflect other data, including the data on drug-related deaths, which show an increase in supply and use of benzodiazepines and specifically etizolam.
“We know from frontline services and surveys of people with drug problems that these police operations have almost no effect on street supply and these drugs remain readily available.
“We need to get ahead of the curve.
“Instead of reactive policing measures, we need treatment services to prescribe far safer, pharmaceutical benzodiazepines and stabilise and then work with people to reduce their use of these drugs.
“The broader perspective is that people are self-medicating for underlying mental health issues, often resulting from childhood trauma, and services should be working to ensure mental health problems are addressed appropriately along with the person’s drug problem.”
Police said they had made “a number of successful seizures of pill presses” in an attempt to stop supply of the tablets.
Detective Superintendent Garry Mitchell said: “This eradicates producers’ ability to make millions of pills per day, and removes the risk to our communities of potentially harmful drugs circulating in our villages, towns and cities.
“Police Scotland is resolutely committed to disrupting organised criminality in all its forms, including the supply of drugs in our communities.”
The seizure statistics, which can vary from year to year depending on policing operations, showed a total of 225kg of heroin was seized by police in 2019/20.
Officers also took control of 136kg of cocaine and 979kg of herbal cannabis.
The figures come after the Lord Advocate announced plans to “effectively decriminalise” class A drugs by diverting people caught in possession away from prosecution.
The Scottish Conservatives said the move could mean even higher levels of the drugs flooding Scotland’s streets.
Shadow justice secretary Jamie Greene said: “It is clear from these figures that Scotland’s streets and communities are awash with drugs.
“Unprecedented volumes of drugs are finding their way on to streets through organised crime gangs, and our hard-working police officers are overstretched trying to deal with the scale of this crisis.
“Yet, the SNP’s latest policy is to effectively decriminalise possession of even harder drugs. This could lead to even more of the very worst drugs blighting more and more communities.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Drug enforcement, including seizures, remains a key part of Police Scotland activity.
“However, we cannot simply arrest our way out of the current drugs emergency in Scotland and we believe the best way to reduce harm is to get people into the appropriate treatment and support services at every point of the criminal justice system.
“The Government is fully committed to implementing approaches that we know work to reduce the harm caused by drug misuse.
“We have set out a ‘national mission’ to improve lives and save lives, the core of which is ensuring everyone can access the treatment and recovery that is right for them, backed by additional funding of £250m over the next five years.”
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