Non-prescribed Benzodiazepines

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of Adam Tomkins Adam Tomkins Conservative

6. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the action that it is taking to address the use of non-prescribed benzodiazepines, such as etizolam, in Glasgow. (S5O-03630)

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

That is an issue not just in Glasgow but in communities across Scotland, and it is one of the matters that the drug deaths task force will consider as part of its work. Earlier this year, the

Glasgow health and social care partnership put in place a number of measures on so-called street Valium, including specific outreach activity and the provision of harm reduction information. The partnership also implemented a treatment protocol for the management of dependence that is associated with the use of street Valium for those most at risk.

Nationally, Police Scotland, national health service boards and funded agencies have sought to increase awareness of the dangers of taking prescription-type drugs, including so-called street Valium, through national warning bulletins, messages on social media and local information campaigns.

Photo of Adam Tomkins Adam Tomkins Conservative

Street Valium costs less than a chocolate bar to buy. What is the minister’s reaction to evidence, including from Police Scotland, that one unintended consequence of minimum unit pricing for alcohol is that it has pushed people with problem alcohol use to switch to cheap drugs such as benzodiazepines?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Concerns regarding the availability and use of street Valium predate the introduction of minimum unit pricing. We know that the key driver of the recent increase in the number of deaths associated with street Valium is the extremely low price of the pills. Mr Tomkins talked about the price of a bar of chocolate, but the reports are that the figure is as low as 20p a pill, and there is increased evidence of poly-drug use.

NHS Health Scotland is looking closely at all the implications in relation to minimum unit pricing. One of its studies assesses the impact of the policy on those drinking harmful levels, and includes considering substitution with other substances. We will absolutely keep an eye on that issue.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I have been informed of significant issues for people in seeking support for benzodiazepine dependency from health services, including general practitioners, which can force people into the hands of dealers pushing the potentially deadly so-called street Valium. Will the minister consider how health services can better help those with such a dependency?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

Health services and general practitioners in particular have a significant role to play in helping to tackle the challenges that we are seeing with drug use and the associated health harms. The Royal College of General Practitioners is represented on the drug deaths task force. It is the role of GPs to assess the clinical needs of their patients, using relevant evidence to take a person-centred approach that identifies their preferences and, where it is clinically appropriate, to follow those.

There are clinical guidelines in place for the management of drug misuse and dependence, and we expect clinicians to take the person-centred approach that is advocated in our alcohol and drug strategy in relation to issues relating to addiction to any type of drug.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Street drug use has been primarily responsible for the HIV outbreak in Glasgow, with the injection of heroin and cocaine. Of course, Scotland was the first part of the United Kingdom to make pre-exposure prophylaxis available on the national health service. PrEP is a game-changing treatment but many people might not be are aware of it. The minister will be aware that it is taken by people who are HIV negative and that it has been shown to reduce the risk of infection by up to 86 per cent. What is the Government doing to increase awareness of the existence of PrEP to drug users?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I thank Pauline McNeill for asking that important question. I was pleased to visit Waverley Care in Glasgow, which is one of the partners that we are working with in order to try to reach people who have been more difficult to reach, particularly in relation to the particular issue in Glasgow that the member raises.

The point that the member makes is important, and I think that we can all do what we can to ensure that people are aware of the benefits of PrEP, and we must also raise awareness of the undetectable equals untransmittable—U=U—campaign, which aims to remove the stigma around HIV. We have treatments in place, and we have PrEP, which is part of a preventative approach.