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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Scotland's Valium Crisis | Drugs Map of Britain

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When did you first take Valium?

When I was about 13 years old.

People continue to mix drugs and take substances like diazepam.

They're dying.

HE COUGHS

Do you want me to pop you down? I've got you, I've got you.

Watch yourself.

The last time I seen him, he was like a skeleton with a skin graft.

Diazepam's always been around and it's always been consistent.

Scotland's little helper. Yes, Scotland's little helper, yeah.

Whilst alcohol, ecstasy and heroin have historically been at the centre

of Scotland's drug scene, Valium has been a silent partner,

hard at work in the background,

with many users craving a tranquilised existence.

It's 10.15am and Jamie is calling his dealer.

Hi, mate, cool. Eh, what, a score, mate, a score.

Nae worries mate, that sounds ideal. Cheers mate, sweet.

It's like your... it's your favourite kind of sweetie.

It tastes like that.

He has a Valium addiction

and, like thousands of other people in Scotland,

he doesn't get the pills from his doctor.

He buys them from a local dealer.

Do you want to show us what you got then? Aye.

So, how many's in there?

It's ten, ten in each strip. Yeah.

But you bought 20?

Aye, aye, that's why, when I said a score, that means 20.

How much does 20 cost? £20.

Aye, that's breakfast.

All right? Yes, go.

Excuse me.

Would you consider yourself to be dependent on Valium?

At the moment, aye, yeah.

It fills that emptiness and it feels like it's your own shield.

You're wrapped in bubble wrap and things don't really matter as much.

But then again, the problem's still there in the morning,

if you're willing to just not address it.

But they certainly do help and calm the stresses of life.

Scotland has a big problem with Valium, otherwise known as diazepam.

76% of drug-related deaths involve the pills, or drugs similar to them,

compared to figures in England and Wales of just 11%.

Right.

In Dundee, there has been a recent spate of overdoses

involving the once widely prescribed drug.

It wasn't long before I met Billy, who explained to me

the wide range of pills available on the street.

Right, so that's MTZ, so what are these pills like?

How much are these each?

So that's 50p per pill?

Is the going rate, basically.

Aye.

It was clear from talking to Billy

that not all the blue pills on the street contain genuine Valium.

Many of them were fake.

I met Kenny Simpson at Police Scotland

who has made tackling the Valium issue a priority.

He showed me a range of fake Valium tablets

recovered from raids on DIY drug factories.

This is just a sample of a large seizure of tablets

that have been illicitly produced.

We've had seizures of a million tablets in one operation,

so that reflects the scale of what's actually out there.

The main issues are twofold.

The illicit production of the tablets,

which brings with it the concerns that it's not pharmacists.

And then the serious and organised crime involvement in diverting

blister pack tablets from lawful production.

Probably one of the most understated drugs

and has been for a long number of years.

The users can be quite ambivalent about what the outcome is

in terms of their health.

But if people continue to mix drugs

and take substances like diazepam, or the equivalent, they're dying.

Many of these blue pills contain Valium-like drugs far stronger,

and potentially more dangerous, than whatever users think they're buying.

Back in Dundee, I met a user named Levi and his friend AJ.

They'd known each other since Levi was young.

The whole time he'd been addicted to Valium.

Levi was heading home to take some blue pills he'd recently bought.

Did you put them in the kinder egg?

Aye, aye.

The pills Levi was taking looked very similar to the fake tablets

I'd seen at the police station.

They had NTZ stamped on them and were sold loose.

When you moved to Dundee,

did you find that Valium was very easily available?

Wow.

When did you first take Valium?

How old are you now?

Would you usually take 30, 40 Valium as well as smoking legal highs

and taking methadone? Yes. OK.

That's not unusual.

Like many users, Levi was taking Valium

with a combination of other drugs.

This can be particularly dangerous,

and the effects were really starting to show.

HE SLURPS

You're jerking a bit, mate. Do you want me to help you pick that up?

Pop it on the floor. Pop it on the floor.

Um...

HE LAUGHS

Sorry, mate, just really surprised me then, came out of nowhere.

Well, you could say that. THEY LAUGH

HE MUMBLES

As we continued to chat, there were moments

when it became difficult to understand Levi.

HE SLURS

He'd have moments of clarity and then drop off.

I thought you fell asleep then.

HE COUGHS LABORIOUSLY

Do you want to pop you down? I've got you, I've got you.

Watch yourself.

Watch yourself.

How are you feeling?

I'll just put this out so it doesn't burn the carpet.

You've got a Bible over there. Yeah, yeah.

You're Christian? Mm.

LEVI MUMBLES

That kind of smells like it might be burning.

LEVI MUMBLES

I'll tell you what, it's amazing.

Mm-hm.

Would you like to stop taking Valium?

Yeah.

THEY LAUGH

Levi was shutting himself off from the world

to avoid getting into trouble whilst high on Valium -

the very drug he used to deal with loneliness and isolation.

Valium has been widely prescribed for anxiety and depression

since the '60s.

However, in the late '80s, doctors started to scale this back

because so many patients developed addictions.

Gareth Balmer has worked to help drug users

for ten years at the charity Addaction.

He explained to me why Scotland has such a big problem with Valium.

Like lots of things it was seen as a bit of a panacea.

I mean this is not a Scottish thing, this is a worldwide thing.

And they work.

And so they were prescribed, but nobody really saw the problems.

Because when they were first sold, not addictive.

I think you can find adverts, you know,

there's this new great drug, it's not addictive,

it's not like the barbiturates or some of these other drugs

that are dangerous, it's going to be great.

They were wrong, it was dependence-producing or addictive.

And interestingly has a really quite severe withdrawal.

How many pills, what kind of doses are people taking

that you're seeing coming into the service?

It's not abnormal for somebody to be taking 30, 40 a day.

If you take a drug every day, you build tolerance to that drug.

Like a lot of medicines, the longer you take something,

the less effective it tends to become.

You tend to see more of the negative side effects

and less of the positive effects of the drugs

over a long period of time. And a lot of people using drugs,

they're always chasing that feeling that they'll never get back.

Why is there such a high use of Valium in Scotland?

We are famous for caring about our money in Scotland, so, you know,

£10 rock of crack, smoke it,

you'll be stimulated for 10, 15 minutes. It'll feel good.

For the same price, I could have 100mg of diazepam

where you can escape from your reality for the next couple of days.

Diazepam's always been around, and it's always been consistent.

Scotland's little helper. Yes, Scotland's little helper, yes.

Do you think the rise of drug-related deaths in Scotland

is connected to the extensive use of Valium on the street?

I would say, on its own, no, it's not.

Unfortunately, when people are dying from drug death,

overdose in Scotland, it's poly-drug use.

It's Valium plus alcohol, it's Valium plus heroin,

it's Valium plus methadone.

So, when it's used in combination with those drugs,

yes, it is dangerous and it is implicated in those deaths,

from our perspective.

Normally what's happened to people is they're becoming so relaxed

that their brain just stops telling them to breathe any more.

Gareth put me in touch with Jo Roden, whose son, John,

had died after taking the tablets, aged 32.

Like Levi, and many other users,

John had mixed Valium with methadone.

Jo took me to the flat where John's body had been found three years ago.

This is wee John's house in the first tenement there on the top.

Have you been down here since? No.

You've not been down since? No.

Do you find yourself kind of craning round when you pass in the car?

I didn't look.

If it's a coping mechanism or what, I don't know.

Nice place he lived in, nothing the matter with it,

it's just where he died.

It's only a house. He's no there.

I didn't really want to look at it, but that's it.

Cos it's the same blinds.

Does that haunt you, that? Yes, cos I broke them.

Cos when I'd went in, the police had the blinds down,

like the way they are now.

And I tried to pull them up and the string came away

and I grabbed at them and I broke them. So...

Know what I mean, that's where he died sitting on his sofa.

It's hard to believe.

You know. It is.

Jo, mate, come here.

THEY CHUCKLE

Are there a lot of people in the wider community

who've lost people to Valium as well?

Yes, definitely yes.

At least one a month.

How many people do you personally know who've lost people to...

Personally?

..to Valium overdoses?

Five.

Five personally? And that's all in the last few years?

Yes. Last year.

In the last year? Yeah.

Jo's close friend Caroline lost her brother Shaun to an overdose

involving Valium four years ago.

Everything like, my wee brother,

it was just like a hit in the face for me.

He was the baby, I never expected it from him.

You seen him and you seen that he was getting worse and worse.

And the last time I seen him he was like a skeleton with a skin graft.

Mmm. It was like you could see his bones right through his skin.

It was horrible.

Do you ever really think about maybe why your brother took drugs?

I can't understand how he started.

I think at first they think they can control their drug intake,

but they can't, the drugs take over, don't they?

And that's hard, that's hard for us to live with.

You're angry at people that are making them,

you're angry at people that are sending them, you just get angry.

And then it's all sadness.

You're angry at them for taking them...

but they took them for a reason

and I think it's to escape from your reality.

I mean, it didn't matter what I said to him.

Didn't matter what anybody said to him, know what I mean?

And...then...

..you've just got to...

..um...

It's just a downward spiral, isn't it?

Rather than an upward struggle, it's a downward spiral, isn't it?

Mm.

Earlier on, I promised Levi I would pop back to see him.

However, when I got to his flat, he seemed pretty out of it.

I met with Levi's friend AJ, who'd previously been his drug worker.

She decided to visit him

when she'd heard about the cocktail of drugs that he'd been taking.

Levi, it's AJ!

It's AJ, man. Get a grip of yourself, kid.

Check your eyes.

Yeah, you have.

You've took two strips, haven't you?

See, see what I mean? Don't lie to me, don't lie to me, Levi.

20 what?

What do you want?

Do you know where you should be? Where I am.

You can't cope on your own, Levi.

The way you are now.

LEVI MUMBLES

You know what I'm going to say to you, don't you, Levi?

Yes. The doctor. Get the fucker cleaned up now.

Get you fucking cleaned up and get your head sorted.

Get your finger out your arse, mate.

Don't do what everybody else is doing around you

and do what you want to do.

I have never ever seen your flat like this before.

I've seen you in this state. Worse than this.

But I've never seen your flat like this, please, I... You know,

if that lad didn't come for me tonight and I didn't see you,

d'you know what would happen?

No. I'd be looking for you in Dundee.

For you.

That's me.

Worried about you, but again...

you cannot kid a kidder.

Been there and done it myself.

No, man. Exactly.

I know someone who works...

LEVI MUMBLES

Please don't smoke that in front of me.

That legal high. Please, I don't take it myself, so...

Thank you.

Whoa, Levi man!

Ha'way, son.

Ha'way.

Put your head together, kidda.

Give your head a shake.

Levi, man.

Pull yourself together, kidda.

He's had a bereavement.

He had two when I was working with him

and obviously he's had another one

since I haven't been working with him.

So that's three in the last four year.

You know, so that is quite a thing on his head, playing.

And he hasn't grieved over it.

He hasn't.

I don't like seeing you like this, you know.

I'd like to boot you up the arse and get you into gear.

Sorry...sorry for swearing.

Don't be daft.

But that's how I feel like doing.

I do, but I can't.

So I know you're going to be all right.

No, just to know that I know that you're going to be all right.

How many have you bought today?

In a bag?

So you've took 30 today.

Yeah?

You've took 20 today, darling. Are you going to be all right?

Yes, honestly.

I do worry about you, darling.

I do. I do worry about you, I do.

I'm all right, I'm spot on.

I need to know... What you up to now? He won't know.

He's just picking all his legal high wrappers up.

I can't believe you. You little shithead.

Hang them up now.

Rosary beads, hang them up.

You against Lord?

I need...

What's your smoke alarm doing on the floor?

Is he going to be all right to leave, are you happy to leave him?

Yes, I'm happy to leave him cos he's... Sound as a pound.

He's sound as a pound, he knows, he's talking to me.

You know, he's opened his eyes like he is now.

There with a smile on the face, you know.

I know he's happy.

Right, I'm going anyway, big boy.

I love you and leave you, you know. I do.

I'm leaving my spirit in this room to look after you.

Where's the bin chute?

Right outside your door? Yeah.

It wants to be, you know. I'm not going up all those stairs.

THEY LAUGH

Coming to Dundee, I had half expected to find people

high on Valium having a good time.

But the reality was very different.

Valium is a lonely drug,

offering only a temporary escape from life's problems.

You need to sort out deprivation. Unfortunately in Scotland,

we have some real poverty-stricken communities.

So I can sit with somebody and we can really engage with somebody,

but unfortunately they've got to go home.

I went to meet Levi the next day to see how he was doing.

How many Valium tablets did you take yesterday?

Probably about 100 eventually.

So that... Is that a normal amount for you to take in a day? Yeah.

Look, I was on 230 tablets a day

and I was still walking around like it was no tomorrow.

Walking around like it was no tomorrow?

Like there was no tomorrow.

It could knock a horse out, man.

But Levi just wanders along like there's nowt the matter.

No problem.

Do you worry about your health?

No.

Why? Why bother about health?

It's all you've got.

We all die some point.

I know, but it's all you've got until that happens.

When that happens, it happens.

I'm not saying I want to die early, by any chance,

I want a nice long life.

But, please believe, I've had some funny old life me, yeah.

If I went tomorrow, it doesn't matter.

What, I mean, do you want to come off Valium?

You want to stop taking Valium. Yeah.

Do you consider yourself to be addicted? Yes.

Everyone has choices in their life to do right or wrong.

It's up to them to make that choice.

Time to start looking for a job and stuff.

Start, um...becoming back into society

and, um, working hard.

Like I used to.

Used to do voluntary work and everything

and I'm just going through a blip at the minute.

What would you say to people about Valium

as someone who's had a lot of close personal experience with it?

She can be the loveliest woman in the world

and she can be the most evilest cow in the world.

What, Valium can? Yeah.

She can be amazing and she can be...

She can be the god and she can be the devil.

I'll get mine, yeah.

Hello, there.

HE TALKS TO THE WAITRESS

I'm good enough to come in here...

You've been very helpful, thank you.

No problem.

The Description of Scotland's Valium Crisis | Drugs Map of Britain