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Emma Simpson reports
"Staff said he was the fourth seller to die from the illness"
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Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Magazine seeks death inquiry
Salvation Army hostel
Mr Johnstone lived in this Glasgow hostel
The Big Issue in Scotland is demanding a public inquiry after the death of one of its vendors from the mystery illness which has killed 33 drug injectors in the UK and Ireland.

The magazine said heroin addict Sammy Johnstone followed the advice of Greater Glasgow Health Board when abscesses appeared on his legs.

He went to an accident and emergency department at the Victoria Infirmary. Staff allegedly sent him back to the hostel where he was living after a 10-minute consultation.

Mr Johnstone, 35, is said to have been refused a home visit by a GP and within 48 hours, he was taken to Paisley's Royal Alexandra Hospital, where he died on 5 June.

Mystery illness
36 cases, 18 dead - Scotland
14 cases, seven dead - England and Wales
15 cases, eight dead - Ireland
Figures from Greater Glasgow Health Board
Tricia Hughes, co-director of The Big Issue in Scotland, said: "We need a public inquiry to find out why Sammy died after he was sent home by staff at the Victoria Infirmary after just a 10-minute examination.

"Homeless people receive a second-rate health service and are dying as a result.

"Despite the publicity surrounding the mystery illness that is killing heroin users in Glasgow, nobody has highlighted the number of these people who were homeless at the time of their deaths."

Meanwhile, health experts from across the UK met in Glasgow to discuss the illness, which has claimed 16 lives in the city and another two in Aberdeen.

They now believe bacteria may be to blame for the illness, which has also claimed eight lives in Dublin and is suspected of killing another seven drug users in England and Wales.

Similar cases

The cases in England and Wales came to light after tests were carried out following the deaths of addicts in Manchester and Liverpool.

Experts are investigating the cases of a further 32 heroin users across the UK and Ireland who are showing similar symptoms.

Dr Sayed Ahmed, from Greater Glasgow Health Board, said: "What we have seen in these cases appears to be almost like a new disease, presented completely differently.

Dr Sayed Ahmed
Dr Sayed Ahmed: "Get our heads together"
"We want to bring together all the experts to see if we an put our heads together and come up with some sort of plan for the way ahead."

There are hopes that a solution may be found by the end of next week.

Microbiologists suspect the condition had been caused by a form of anaerobic bacteria - the class of bacteria which includes the causes of botulism, tetanus and gas gangrene.

The condition appears to affect heroin addicts who inject the drug into the muscle or under the skin, rather than into a vein.

Scientists in Britain, Ireland and the United States have been exchanging information in an effort to discover the reason for the infection as the death toll continues to rise.

Victims suffer a septicaemia-type illness and need intensive care, but some have died from multiple organ failure within hours.

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See also:

03 Jun 00 | Scotland
Bacteria theory to drug deaths
30 May 00 | Scotland
Drug deaths link confirmed
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