Gary, (benzodiazepine street user): "I was working in the West End. I had BUPA with my job and I had depression - split up, marriage problems. I got them [the benzodiazepines] through a private doctor through work and I didn't realise how nice they were and how they shut things off."
Victoria Macdonald: Gary has been addicted to the benzodiazepines, tranquilliser drugs like Valium for 13 years. Initially he was legally prescribed them, now he buys them off the streets with ease.
Gary: "If you stop you have fits, cramp, sick, diahorroea and you know by taking one, it'll make you better and you're going to take that one to make you better."
"Benzodiazepines were once called "mother's little helpers",
numbing the pain of suburban neurosis, but they're being widely abused and as
the Home Office figures now show they're also killing people. They are being
prescribed and then sold onto the streets or imported in increasingly large
quantities from abroad, making their way into the hands of drug dealers.
Now channel 4 News has learned that the Government is to change the Misuse of Drugs Act - it is to reschedule benzodiazepines, making them subject to import and export controls, but critics say this does not deal with the legally prescribed drugs being illicitly sold.
Gary: "I buy my drugs from the street as I say, I bought
these [shows tablets] from just down the road this morning - just by a chemist.
The blue ones [shows blue tablets] go two for a pound, the yellow ones [shows yellow tablets] go four for a pound"
"Close to this alley in London's East End is a chemist's shop where the
drug dealers go to get their prescriptions legally filled. - And you can see
all the evidence of the drugs here - the phials, the syringes and the bottles
presumably containing the Valium or temazepam and increasingly these illegally
acquired drugs, which are taken in tablet form or crushed and injected are
leading to fatal overdoses.
The statistics paint a bleak picture - in Scotland in 1998, the most recent figures available: 114 people died from heroin and morphine overdoses, but 151 died from taking benzodiazepines.
In England and Wales between 1990 and 1996, 1,623 people overdosed on Heroin, morphine and other opiates, 1,810 died from benzodiazepines."
Keith Hellawell, Drug Tzar: "Within a well organised and well regulated system, you will have people who misuse those systems, people who are buying them legitimately or have been prescribed them legitimately, selling them on to someone else. You will have doctors who are over-prescribing, perhaps unaware of the consequences and not concerned about that. So even within a well regulated system you could still have some seepage. - What we can do and what we are trying to do, is to increase knowledge, increase understanding, better regulate and better control."
Victoria Macdonald: "Psychiatrist Bob Johnson, who has spent years working with benzo addicts believes the government's moves do not go far enough."
Dr Bob Johnson: "Tinkering with the legislation is not sufficient. Government has a role and a serious role. Talking about drugs tzars, wars on drugs misses the point. You are dealing with people who are damaged, people who have deep mental pain and therefore you have to find the best practice, persuasion and encouragement."
Victoria Macdonald: "At this drop-in centre run by the charity Turning Point, workers believe it is doctors who are the key."
Adam Frankland (Turning Point):"doctors need more training and education about drugs in general, both prescribed and street drugs so that they know what they are dealing with when people come through the doors to them. During doctor training very little time is spent on illicit drugs or drugs that are used on the street."
Victoria Macdonald: "Gary wants to stop taking the benzos and he wants people to recognise the dangers of these prescription drugs."
Gary: "They are dangerous drugs. People don't realise how bad they are. They think it's just a bit if fun but it's no fun - once you are on them it's no fun at all. They really mess you up."
(C) Channel 4 News, 04.01.01.