Health officials have raised serious concerns over soaring rates of bromazolam tablets seized by authorities across the country.
The drug, a potent form of benzodiazepine, has strong sedative and sleep-inducing effects, creating a “substantial risk” of overdose, according to new data.
Public Health Scotland (PHS) said it had overtaken etizolam as the most common version of ‘benzos’ or ‘street vallium’ detected in Scotland since the start of the year.
The body added it had been “implicated in hospitalisations and deaths” in different areas of the country and urged drug services to provide and promote measures around harm reduction.
“Bromazolam is now the most common drug detected in ‘street benzos’,” PHS said in a RADAR health alert.
“Bromazolam has been seized in both community and custodial settings and implicated in hospitalisations and deaths in different areas of the country.
“Reports to RADAR indicate that bromazolam produces strong sedative and sleep-inducing effects. As a result, there is a substantial risk of overdose.”
The pills are mostly commonly found with either a blue, green, teal or white tinge and come in both circular and oval form.
Some versions have “Xanax” stamped on them while others come in the form of pale-coloured powder.
They were first detected in European drug markets in 2016 and in Scotland in 2021.
Reports of their effects describe reduced consciousness, memory loss and blackouts, where individuals have difficulty remembering events that occurred while under the influence of the drug and for several days afterwards.
Figures released by the Scottish Government revealed a 5% increase in suspected drug deaths across the country in the first three months of 2023 compared to the same period last year.
However, the quarterly report stated, in the 12 months to March 2023, deaths thought to be related to drugs fell by 7% to 1,105.
Kirsten Horsburgh, CEO of drugs charity Scottish Drugs Forum, said those buying benzodiazepine can never be sure what exactly they are being sold, adding the new strain was a “concern”.
“All the benzodiazepine group of drugs act in slightly different ways in terms of how quickly they are effective and how long the effects last,” she said.
“When something new is introduced there can be a rise in the harms associated with the use of these drugs especially when they are mixed with other drugs including alcohol.
“These harms, unfortunately may include deaths. All services need to be aware of this and people using benzos, their family and friends should be aware of the signs of an overdose and how to respond to an overdose.”
She added: “This issue also highlights the ongoing need for drug checking services so that people can make informed choices about their drug use.”