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HEROIN BUG WILL BECOME A PLAGUE; Expert's stark warning over lethal batch of drug.

THE junkie disease killing heroin addicts across Scotland could become a nationwide plague, according to a top drugs expert.

Jackie Kerr, of the Drug Prevention Project, believes the drug dealer selling the infected batch of heroin is drip feeding his deadly merchandise into the market slowly to cover his tracks.

Police have seized heroin worth pounds 28million, and the prospect that the evil dealer will feed his massive stash to desperate junkies for months to come is horrifying.

At least 36 people have been killed by the rogue heroin, including 16 addicts in Glasgow.

Health experts are still unsure what is causing the deaths but believe a bacteria has infected the heroin, creating a deadly toxin when mixed with citric acid.

Junkies use citric acid to break down their heroin before injecting into muscles, where the rogue smack causes huge wounds up to a foot wide.

Jackie Kerr said: "Normally a batch of heroin is used up in days or a week or two but these deaths have been spread across a month.

"I think it unlikely there is more than one batch of infected heroin because there would be far more deaths all over the country.

"Instead the reason the deaths are spread out is because someone has a bad batch and he knows it. He wants to wait for the fuss to die down before he gets rid of it all."

The number of deaths in the future will depend on how much more of the infected heroin there is left but victims have been reported in England and Ireland.

"That shows how quickly it can be distributed," Kerr added.

Three Wolverhampton men arrested in connection with the death of a Glaswegian from the infection were released on Sunday.

Derek Anderson is thought to be the latest victim of the plague after his body was found in Wolverhampton on Saturday.

The first deaths from the mystery bug came in early May when heroin addicts in Glasgow began turning up at hospital with huge abscesses up to a foot across.

Mostly women, they were given antibiotics but developed an illness similar to septicaemia before suffering organ failure and dying.

All the heroin users affected had injected the drug into muscles - increasing the risk of the infection.

Last weekend health authorities in England confirmed nine more cases in Manchester and Liverpool including five deaths.

Experts from Glasgow's Public Health Board believe the infection combines with the citric acid used to break down the heroin while inside the muscles.

The health board has since called for help from experts at the World Disease Control Centre in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, to trace the batch.

At one point the deadly anthrax bacterium was suspected of being the cause of the deaths .

Tests at the Ministry of Defence's Porton Down chemical weapons centre confirmed two of the Scottish victims contained the normal antibodies to anthrax.

But after further tests the theory was dropped and experts are now convinced there is a rogue batch of heroin in circulation.

Drugs support groups have urged addicts to smoke the drug instead of injecting it. But smoking is more expensive and most addicts have ignored the warning.

Although doctors can treat sufferers with antibiotics to kill the bacteria they can't stop the toxin it produces eating its way through the victim's body.

A recent survey showed heroin use in Edinburgh and Glasgow was spiralling out of control with a 400 per cent rise since last year.

Despite spending pounds 1.4billion on controlling drugs, the Government has made little impact on heroin with the street price halving in the last 20 years.

Seizures are now at record levels with more than 12,000 made by the Police, Customs and Excise and Royal Navy last year.
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Author:Clements, Jon
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 13, 2000
Words:627
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