Re­vealed: drug-driv­ing linked to hun­dreds of ac­ci­dents on Scot­land’s roads

Sunday Herald - - NEWS - BY JU­DITH DUFFY CHIEF RE­PORTER

DRUG-DRIV­ING has been linked to more than 250 road ac­ci­dents in Scot­land over the past five years – in­clud­ing 21 deaths, writes Ju­dith Duffy.

The fig­ures have been re­vealed in an anal­y­sis of of­fi­cial fig­ures car­ried out by this news­pa­per, which record what fac­tors may have in­flu­enced the ac­ci­dent in the opin­ion of po­lice of­fi­cers at­tend­ing the scene – which can in­clude ev­ery­thing from road and ve­hi­cle con­di­tions to poor ma­noeu­vres and driv­ing too fast.

The fig­ures, pub­lished by Trans­port Scot­land, show that be­tween 2011 and 2015, the driver or mo­tor­cy­clist in 262 ac­ci­dents was as­sessed as im­paired by ei­ther il­licit or medic­i­nal drugs, 21 of which in­volved fa­tal­i­ties. The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has been ac­cused of lag­ging be­hind Eng­land and Wales by fail­ing to in­tro­duce drug-driv­ing lim­its and road­side “dru­gal­yser” tests. Last month, the Sun­day Her­ald re­vealed re­search which showed the same num­ber of driv­ers died on the roads in Scot­land af­ter tak­ing cannabis as those who died af­ter drink­ing.

A spokesman for road safety char­ity Brake said: “The num­ber of road crashes af­fected by in­di­vid­u­als un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs is wor­ry­ing ... We are call­ing for zero tol­er­ance on drink or drug-driv­ing from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and the pub­lic, for stronger leg­is­la­tion, more road­side test­ing and greater re­sources for the po­lice to en­force a ban on drug and drink driv­ing.”

The to­tal num­ber of ac­ci­dents linked to drug-driv­ing is around four times the num­ber where the use of a mo­bile phone af­fected the driver – which was cited as a fac­tor in 67 ac­ci­dents over the five years.

How­ever, al­co­hol is a more com­monly cited con­trib­u­tory fac­tor than drugs, which is be­lieved to have been in­volved in around 1,300 ac­ci­dents be­tween 2011 and 2015.

The pub­li­ca­tion from Trans­port Scot­land notes that fig­ures have to be treated with cau­tion as they are based on opin­ion at the time of the ac­ci­dent, but aim to pro­vide in­sight into how road ac­ci­dents oc­cur and how they can be pre­vented.

David Ste­wart, Labour MSP for High­land and Is­lands and a vet­eran road safety cam­paigner, said he was plan­ning to meet for­mally with Justice Sec­re­tary Michael Mathe­son over the is­sue soon. “The main is­sue is to have a de­ter­rent so peo­ple con­sid­er­ing driv­ing who are im­paired be­cause of drugs – ei­ther pre­scrip­tion or not – will think twice.”

Mathe­son said: “Scot­land has long­stand­ing leg­is­la­tion used by Po­lice Scot­land, pros­e­cu­tors and our courts that makes it an of­fence to drive while be­ing im­paired due to drugs. We are con­sid­er­ing very care­fully whether ev­i­dence shows that spe­cific drug-driv­ing lim­its should be in­tro­duced in Scot­land.”

THE chang­ing face of “recre­ational” drug use in Scot­land is hav­ing a pro­found im­pact on health - with ad­mis­sion to hos­pi­tals dou­bling, the Sun­day Her­ald can re­veal. New trends in­clude Spice, a pow­er­ful new strain of a syn­thetic al­ter­na­tive to cannabis hit­ting the streets, which is cur­rently caus­ing alarm thanks to images of users be­ing turned into the “liv­ing dead”.

Spice is one of a num­ber of new lab­o­ra­tory-cre­ated sub­stances which have emerged as a fea­ture of the mod­ern drugs scene, with an in­crease in po­tent forms of home­grown cannabis and the use of pow­er­ful painkiller drugs in a trend dubbed “codeine housewives” also iden­ti­fied.

Drug-re­lated hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions in Scot­land as a re­sult of use of cannabis-type drugs have dou­bled over the past 30 years, the Sun­day Her­ald can re­veal. Hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions due to opi­oids – which in­clude painkilling drugs such as codeine, methadone and mor­phine as well as heroin – have also dou­bled over that time.

Harry Shapiro, di­rec­tor of DrugWise, an on­line drug in­for­ma­tion ser­vice, said the type of cannabis be­ing used to­day was now more likely to be home­grown in­doors, which can in­clude the po­tent “skunk” form. He said a rise in peo­ple com­ing for­ward for treat­ment for is­sues re­lated to cannabis co­in­cided with this trend.

“It is not like you start smok­ing skunk and then a fort­night later think I had bet­ter go and get some help,” he said. “It can take years be­fore some­one thinks I need to do some­thing about this – and it would be fairly reg­u­lar and heavy cannabis use, it wouldn’t be the odd spliff.

“That would tie in with when home­grown cannabis be­gan to take over the mar­ket and a small pro­por­tion of peo­ple would at some point think I need to get some help with this, and that has been re­flected in the treat­ment sta­tis­tics.”

An in­crease in cannabis users com­ing for­ward for treat­ment is high­lighted in a re­cent re­port pub­lished by DrugWise, which pro­vides an an­nual snap­shot of trends in UK street drug mar­kets us­ing in­for­ma­tion from across the coun­try, in­clud­ing Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh. One drug worker in Eng­land said: “Lots of young peo­ple com­ing in for cannabis prob­lems, in­clud­ing ad­dic­tion, say­ing it’s tak­ing over their life, can’t do any­thing.” An­other said: “Big rise in cannabis users ac­cess­ing ser­vices that are more usu­ally ac­cessed by opi­ate users. All for skunk.”

The re­port also notes con­cerns over the prob­lem­atic use of pre­scrip­tion or over-the-counter drugs such as tran­quilis­ers, opi­ate painkillers and an­tide­pres­sants. This in­cludes the ex­is­tence of Breaking Bad-style DIY lab­o­ra­to­ries manufacturing drugs such as di­azepam – com­monly known as val­ium – which is said to be a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem in Scot­land.

Ris­ing numbers of peo­ple us­ing over-the-counter painkillers con­tain­ing codeine in a bid to re­duce the stress of ev­ery­day life was also high­lighted in the re­port. Shapiro said: “We came across drug work­ers, par­tic­u­larly in the north­east, who were talk­ing about that call­ing it ‘ codeine housewives’ – the mother’s lit­tle helper-type idea. This is peo­ple tak­ing codeine tablets not be­cause they were in pain, but just to get a bit of a light buzz to take the edge off the day. That is a wide­spread and hardly ac­knowl­edged prob­lem re­ally.”

In Scot­land, fig­ures point to a trend to­wards cer­tain types of drugs caus­ing in­creas­ing prob­lems. In the 1990s, the per­cent­age of drug-re­lated hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions due to cannabi­noids was just over six per cent – that has now dou­bled to 13 per cent.

Hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions as a re­sult of use of opi­oid drugs like heroin, codeine and methadone have also risen, from 31 per cent in the 1990s to 57 per cent in 2014-15. But there has been a slight drop in the pro­por­tion of ad­mis­sions due to seda­tive or hyp­notic drugs like val­ium, while co­caine only rose slightly from just un­der one per cent to 6.5 per cent.

A trend in re­cent years has been the emer­gence of so-called le­gal highs, also known as new psy­choac­tive sub­stances (NPDs), which were banned un­der new leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced last year. David Lid­dell, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Scot­tish Drugs Fo­rum, pointed out that these were the first drugs to be pro­fes­sion­ally mar­keted, with pack­ag­ing and par­tic­u­lar lo­gos.

He pointed to the “sig­nif­i­cant change in im­por­ta­tion and sup­ply via the in­ter­net and the de­vel­op­ment of the dark web, where sup­ply can be hid­den.” There are a wide range of le­gal highs, but Lid­dell points to syn­thetic cannabi­noids – such as Spice – as be­ing of “sig­nif­i­cant con­cern”.

He said these drugs are most likely to be used by vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple – such as those in prison – and there can be “sig­nif­i­cant harm­ful con­se­quences” in their use. When it comes to the harm that other recre­ational drugs can cause, he said the pic­ture was not clear.

“It would be use­ful to have more re­search in this area to es­tab­lish whether recre­ational drug users sim­ply do not ex­pe­ri­ence drug-re­lated harm, or whether ser­vices in Scot­land need to be do­ing more to meet new treat­ment pop­u­la­tions,” he said.

The prob­lem of syn­thetic cannabi­noids is also high­lighted by Ed­in­burgh drugs ad­vice char­ity Crew 2000. Al­though these drugs have been avail­able for around a decade, chief ex­ec­u­tive Emma Craw­shaw pointed out they were pre­vi­ously lit­tle used and re­sulted in less in­tense side-ef­fects.

Now there are over 200 dif­fer­ent syn­thetic cannabi­noids un­der sur­veil­lance by the United Na­tions Of­fice on Drugs and Crime.

Craw­shaw said: “Ef­fects are more ex­ag­ger­ated and un­pre­dictable than cannabis and peo­ple us­ing them can ex­pe­ri­ence an in­tense but short-lived high, en­hanced sen­sa­tions, feel­ings of heav­i­ness and nau­sea as well as anx­i­ety, para­noia, heart pal­pi­ta­tions and strong crav­ings to re­dose. Peo­ple have also re­ported an in­crease in severe men­tal health is­sues when us­ing these sub­stances in­clud­ing ‘de­tach­ment from re­al­ity’, sui­ci­dal thoughts and de­pres­sion.”

Tony Marini, psy­chother­a­pist at Cas­tle Craig, a pri­vate res­i­den­tial ad­dic­tion clinic in the Bor­ders, said it had seen an in­creas­ing num­ber of pa­tients be­ing ad­mit­ted due to “le­gal highs”.

“We are mainly see­ing peo­ple un­der the age of 25 and le­gal highs are con­cern­ing us as you get a lot more para­noid and psy­chotic episodes – they don’t know what is in these drugs,” he said.

Spice is one of a num­ber of new lab­o­ra­tory-cre­ated sub­stances which have emerged as a fea­ture of the mod­ern drugs scene

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