CRACKDOWN ON VALIUM VALLEYS; Police fears over seizures of sedatives.
SEIZURES of a sedative once known as "mother's little helper" are soaring in parts of Wales as police try to combat growing demand for the drug.
Valium, used as an emotional crutch by struggling housewives of the Sixties and Seventies, has increasingly become the new drug of choice for young people.
Figures obtained by Wales on Sunday under the Freedom of Information Act reveal seizures made by South Wales Police rose by 28% this year.
In January, February and March, the last months for which figures for the entire force area are available, officers took 58 batches of Valium, also known as diazepam, along with nitrazepam, another drug from the Valium family and flunitrazepam, a powerful tranquilliser better known as the date-rape drug Rohypnol, off the streets.
Over the same period in 2008 they made 45 seizures.
The news comes as police continue their investigation following the recovery this week of 700 Valium tablets, cash and drugs paraphernalia from a house in Cymmer, near Port Talbot.
It was the latest in a series of raids by police in Neath Port Talbot, who have become increasingly worried by the numbers of children being found disorientated and with memory loss after taking the Class C prescription-only drug.
Detective Inspector Dave Wright, of the Neath Port Talbot police pro-active team, said: "We are concerned at the number of individuals, especially youngsters, who have been brought into police custody for committing criminal offences who show serious effects of taking drugs.
"After taking these tablets the young people cannot remember where they have been or what they have done from one day to the next. In some cases they are completely unaware of what criminal acts they have committed."
Figures released by Dyfed-Powys Police following a request under the Freedom of Information Act also show Carmarthenshire has become a Valium hotspot. Of the 58 seizures of the drug across the force area in 2008, 37 were in Carmarthenshire.
Recoveries of the drug have rocketed by a further 10% in the county so far this year.
Reformed childhood Valium addict Wynford Ellis Owen, chief executive of the Welsh Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs charity, told Wales on Sunday Valium and other sedatives have grown in popularity "because they make things bearable".
"And we live in a culture now where people, including children, want to make their lives bearable," he said.
"It's not surprising that people are using Valium because it's always been around, but what is surprising is that children are getting into it. They are playing with fire."
Mr Owen said he believed the recorded number of seizures may represent "just the tip of the iceberg".
It is not illegal to possess or use Valium without a prescription, but it is an offence to sell or supply the tablets and the maximum penalty is a 14-year jail sentence plus a fine.
But flunitrazepam is illegal to possess without a prescription and could lead to two years in prison and a fine. Dealing could result in a 14-year stretch.
Dr David Bailey, chairman of the Welsh GP committee and a GP in Trethomas, said Valium, which doctors prescribe "cautiously" for extreme anxiety, is taken by drugusers to soften the unpleasant side-effects of Ecstasy and they take it with alcohol to enhance the effects.
"People can become physically and psychologically addicted in as little as a month and the withdrawal effects can be quite extreme - sweating, shaking, anger and anxiety."
Dr Bailey added GPs are unable to wean many older patients off diazepam as they have been taking it for so long and continue to prescribe it, which may explain why so many tablets are available on the streets.
But he said dealers may also be getting it off the internet.
IN DEMAND: Diazepam (Valium), a drug used for the short-term relief of symptoms related to anxiety disorders