Pubdate: Fri, 04 Aug 2000
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Kitty Holland


Police in Birmingham are to investigate a possible link between 
heroin-related deaths in the city and recent similar deaths in the Republic 
and in Scotland.

Two young drug-users have died within 24 hours in the city and a third is 
critically ill. Two new cases affecting two women were also confirmed by 
the Greater Glasgow Health Authority yesterday. One of them died in 
hospital in Glasgow early yesterday.

West Midlands police have warned drug users in the Birmingham area about 
the possibility of a "poor-quality batch of heroin in circulation". The 
Birmingham health service has also put its casualty departments on alert 
for drug users with unusual symptoms.

Eight heroin users died in Dublin between April and June this year of an 
unidentified illness involving abscesses on the skin, followed by 
contamination of the blood and eventual vital organ failure. There were 16 
confirmed cases of the illness in the Republic and 57 in Scotland. There 
have been no new cases in the Republic since late June.

The two dead men in Birmingham have not yet been formally named. A West 
Midlands police spokeswoman said an 18-year-old man had been found dead in 
a city-centre flat last Tuesday. A 39-year-old man found with him remains 
critical in the City Hospital. Early indications are they had injected 
contaminated heroin, she said.

At 4 p.m. on Wednesday another man was found dead at a derelict site in the 
Summer Hill area of the city.

Det Chief Insp Gordon Fraser said yesterday morning that early indications 
suggested contaminated heroin was involved in both of the deaths.

"We are warning drug users that there may be a poor-quality batch of heroin 
in circulation," he said. "While there is no evidence yet linking these 
deaths with those in Dublin and Scotland, and we are not sure whether the 
deaths have been caused by contaminated heroin or by very pure heroin, we 
will be in contact with the Irish police as soon as we have the post-mortem 
results back."

A post-mortem was being carried out on the 18-year-old yesterday.

A Garda spokesman said yesterday the Garda National Drugs Unit was aware of 
the heroin-related deaths in Birmingham but that West Midlands police had 
not been in contact with it.

Though the Greater Glasgow Health Authority identified a bacterium called 
Clostridium novyi Type A as the likely cause of the infection among 
injecting addicts in June, the Eastern Regional Health Authority has not 
confirmed the cause of the deaths in its area. It is widely accepted, 
however, that the deaths and those in Scotland were caused by the same 

After a meeting to discuss the new cases yesterday, Dr Laurence Gruer, 
consultant in public health medicine with the Greater Glasgow Health Board, 
expressed his disappointment at the two Birmingham deaths.

"However, in at least one the heroin used had apparently been prepared at 
least six weeks ago. It is likely that virtually all of the contaminated 
heroin has now been used up."
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