Four drugs deaths in a month recorded in Midlothian

Wednesday September 20th 2023


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Four people have died from drugs overdoses in a single month in Midlothian in a devastating blow to social care teams who recorded their lowest fatalities in a decade last year.

Midlothian’s head of adult services Nick Clater said it was believed the deaths, which occurred in July, were linked to a ‘more potent’ batch of Benzodiazepines, which may have been circulating at the time.

And he told a meeting of Midlothian Council’s performance, review and scrutiny committee, the deaths had an impact on the staff which work out of the county’s No11 social care and justice hub, as they dealt with the string of deaths.

He said: “It was probably the hardest time that staff group have had and was important to make sure they felt well supported at the time.

“Unfortunately, it is a difficult thing to say, but in that world that is what happens some times and it is about saying to staff that no matter how hard they have worked, sometimes that may be the outcome because we are talking about a variable substance use which ultimately may kill people.”

Mr Clater told the meeting, which was held yesterday at council chambers in Dalkeith, the ‘assertive’ model which the council uses to tackle drug use in the county had swung into full effect during the crisis.

He said: “In July when we had that spike in deaths we had capacity within our team to go out literally two/three times a day to the people we were most concerned about to ensure they were well.

“It is that assertive interface which has been most important.”

Midlothian saw the number of drug deaths in 2021 reach a decade long high with 23 people losing their lives. The huge drop to just four deaths in 2022 was put down in large part to the proactive approach taken by the No11 teams and third party support.

Mr Clater said there was no doubt the teams deserved credit for the fall in death last year.

He told the committee: “The drop was so significant that I think we have to take a degree of credit in the work we have done around the prevention model we have.

“The issue we think in July, and we are still looking into the circumstances, is that there is a new and much more potent Benzodiazepine on the scene and we think that may have had an impact but we are still looking at that.

“The drug world is changing constantly and gone are the days when it was mainly heroin and methadone issues, it is much more around Benzodiazepines that are much more readily available, much cheaper, and being quite blunt about it much more lethal and we think that is what we saw in July.”

Councillor Bryan Pottinger, committee member, said: “Gone are the days when we could just point the finger at the heroin addict, there are new cocktails out there and new ways of taking drugs.

“Four drugs deaths in one month really makes people sit up, but the hardest thing to report on is the drugs deaths you are preventing as it is hard to score or audit, but the preventative work which is going on is really good.”

And Councillor Margot Russell added: “This local authority are blessed with having a team who really help other people.

“We, as councillors have to support the staff, it is a very small team and we need to make sure their well being is being looked after as well.”

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