“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” says Superintendent Gary I’Anson, who is leading an intensive, campaign to tackle soaring numbers of drug deaths in Glasgow.

He says Police Scotland recognised a new approach was necessary after figures emerged earlier this year showing the city had experienced a 45% surge in deaths.

A total of 280 lives were lost to substance abuse in 2018, compared to 192 in 2017 and 94 in 2010.

Disrupting street dealing is only one part of a series of ‘days of action’ involving uniformed and plain clothed officers patrolling known trouble spots in the Calton, Gallowgate City Centre and Dennistoun areas. At least seven more are planned this month with key input from housing associations and support groups as well as the doctors who are dealing with hospital overdose admissions.

While arrests will still be made, this is about police taking a more compassionate towards the drug users and directing them to support while another team pieces together the complicated jigsaw directing them to the bigger supply chains.

“The public think we are all about enforcement,” says Superintendent I’Anson.

“One aspect is obviously how do we affect the supply but also, how do we practically develop better ways of referring people for help who have complex needs and break the cycle.

“How does Police Scotland get better at this? What areas do we need to change?

“It’s public health led rather than enforcement led.”

The week before the Evening Times goes out with officers, two young boys are identified with multiple drug wraps. One has around 100 previous convictions for minor crimes including thefts to fund his habit.

Read more: Glasgow's homeless units to be issued with Naloxone anti-overdose nasal sprays

Dealers invariably target the most vulnerable and according to officers, the front door of the City Mission and Wallace of Campsie homeless units in the Gallowgate areas are usually “awash with people” looking for drugs, although it’s quiet on today’s operation. Steps leading up to a gate is a known ‘overdose spot’ despite being right on the main street. According to police users don’t travel far when they get their fix.

Glasgow Times:

Staff in the city’s homeless units are now being trained to administer Naloxone nasal sprays, which help reverse the harmful effects of opioids.

“I do feel sorry for some of them,” says Constable Keith Stephen who is described by his colleagues as a sniffer dog in human form and says injuries from needles are not uncommon, particularly during late-night call outs to wasteground.

“They are vulnerable and it’s a hard, hard life out there.” he says. “I’m a great believer that people are a victim of their own circumstances. These are people who are in and out of services.”

Police say the goal would be for vulnerable drug users, in some cases, being referred for help ‘on the spot’ with addiction workers sent to the scene. They cite the Positive Outcomes Project, a joint initiative which targets the over 16s who are persistently offending to fund drug habits, offering them rehab help and support from former drug users.

Read more: Glasgow support group speaks out over drastic impact of drug use on families

Police weren’t surprised by this year’s drug death figures, which made headlines globally, according to Superintendent I’Anson.

“We knew it was coming.” he says.”The trends were there. It’s hard to pin point it to one thing but I would say the range of drugs people are taking now is key.”

The main concern at the moment is street Valium, known as Etizolam, which “contains rubbish” according to officers and is the main cause of deaths. Sold in bags of 25 tablets for around £10, Keith said it wasn’t uncommon for users to be taking up to 100 tablets a day.

n January, Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (GCHSCP) issued a warning about the risks posed by poly drug use, particularly the rise in cheap Street Valium pills (Etizolam), especially if mixed with heroin or alcohol

Overdoses may come as a result of coming out of jail or addiction services when tolerance has lowered.

Glasgow Times:

Last month, graphic pictures emerged showing addicts injecting drugs on derelict land near Glasgow Green. One who has no right arm is shown injecting a syringe into his thigh.

The officers take us to the piece of derelict land bounded by trees at the corner of Charlotte Street and London Road, opposite Glickman’s famous sweet shop. There is barely an inch that isn’t littered with rubbish and drug paraphernalia, although one user has stuck his syringe into a tree rather than discard it.

The ground hasn’t been cleaned up according to officers because there is a dispute over the ownership of the land.

Today’s operation is focussed on the east of the city including an area close to Bellgrove hostel but according to Sergeant Stuart Ash, it’s not confined to the more deprived areas of the city. “I could easily walk down Byres Road and find the same problems. Obviously there are going to be beggars in an affluent area.” he says, while Dennistoun is also an area of concern. City Centre alleways are also common injecting sites.

Glasgow Times:

Plans are now well advanced for a drug treatment centre offering medical-grade heroin, which will be administered under strict medical supervision on Hunter Street, where homeless services are located.

A separate plan for a Safer Drug Consumption Facility (SDCF) which would allow users to bring street drugs was rejected by the Westminster government because it would require a change in drugs laws.

Superintendent I’Anson won’t comment on plans for either facility saying it’s a matter for the politicians. “

“Our focus is on disrupting the dealers and helping the victims.”

For support around drug use contact the Positive Outcomes Project on 0141 276 7456.