Analysts in the UK have reported a surge in popularity of the drug diazepam, better known as Valium, among drug users.
According to independent drug research organization DrugScope, diazepam use as a heroin substitute is increasing among drug users in 15 out of 20 towns it surveyed.
Known on the street as “Ëœblues’ of “Ëœvallies’, Valium is a class C drug, but experts are concerned about the rise in its use among class A drug users over the past 12 months.
DrugScope analysts said diazepam is often being mixed with alcohol and methadone to ease the comedown from crack cocaine. This combination can be lethal, they add.
The annual survey questioned 100 drug services and police forces in 20 towns and cities across the UK.
Researchers attribute the increase in diazepam use to the rise in illicit imports of both genuine and counterfeit versions of the drug. Police and customs seizures of diazepam have gone up sharply, from 300,000 pills seized between July 2003 and June 2006 to 2 million between July 2006 and June 2008.
In some areas, a drop in the availability and quality of street heroin may be behind the increase, the study notes. However, analysts say it is the drug’s cheapness that has led so many users to turn to the drug.
Harry Shapiro, DrugScope’s director of communications, said there had also been an “unexpected heroin shortage”.
“Local fluctuations have occurred despite the bumper harvest in Afghanistan, which illustrates the complexity of the illicit drug market,” he said.
But mixing diazepam with other drugs, especially alcohol, is a “potentially lethal combination”, he said.
DrugScope also found evidence to suggest that “poly” drug use, which combines several drugs, was rising among young people.
It said cocaine was still popular, with a “two-tier” market in which low quality powder was sold for less than higher quality powder.
In the ecstasy market, there was an increase in the amphetamine-like drug BZP replacing MDMA as the ingredient in pills.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is considering the drug BZP in order to provide advice to the government on its classification.
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