IT featured as the rugged, remote and idyllic backdrop to a dark television crime drama series but in real life Shetland has an even darker underbelly - as one of Scotland’s heroin hotspots.

Drug offences on the islands have risen two-and-a-half times in a year – believed to be the biggest rise in Scotland – as dealers target the island’s wealthy residents with cocaine and heroin.

The number of recorded drug crimes on Shetland rose from 69 in 2014/15 to 178 in 2015/16, far steeper than the rest of the Highlands and Islands where recorded drug crimes rose from 1,197 to 1,266.

Police chiefs admit that the islands, widely considered to be some of the safest places to live in the UK, have a “specific issue” with heroin.

But there is growing anxiety that the issues are not being tackled on the ground and the drug problem could get worse.


Dogs Against Drugs, a group of volunteer residents, who run a team of sniffer dogs, are working with officers to stop drugs coming into the area. Police believe gangs are bringing in the supply from mainland cities.

In March 2015, Dogs Against Drugs helped police seize £10,000-worth of heroin at Lerwick ferry terminal. The charity’s sniffer dogs were involved in the seizure of £15,000-worth of heroin at the ferry terminal on February 9 this year.

The time taken to get treatment for drugs in NHS Shetland is the worst in Scotland according to the latest quarterly figures. Data seen by the Sunday Herald shows that just half of the people referred for drug treatment began getting help within three weeks in the first three months of this year. Across Scotland, of the 4,313 people seeking treatment, 94.2 per cent waited three weeks or less.

The authority had in two previous years met the Local Delivery Plan (LDP) standard set by the Scottish Government and health boards which is that at least 90 per cent of people should start treatment in three weeks or less.

Health service data also shows that NHS Shetland reported an 87 per cent increase in Injecting Equipment Provision attendances (giving users clean needles) between 2013/14 and 2014/15, by far the biggest rise among all NHS boards in Scotland – where the average rise was just 54 per cent.

The purpose of injecting equipment provision is harm reduction and it has been found to be effective in reducing risks in people who inject drugs.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and former users of the Community Alcohol and Drugs Support Service (CADSS) have now called for more to be done on the ground to deal the island’s drug problem.


“Chronic” underfunding from the public sector has been blamed for the collapse in April of the 25-year-old drug and alcohol support service.

CADSS's shock closure came amidst a drop in funding - having been reliant on grants from the Shetland Islands Council and the Shetland Alcohol and Drug Partnership, a joint working group made up of the council, NHS Shetland and Police Scotland among others.

CADSS has claimed its annual £500,000 budget shrank by 57 per cent in 2015/16 with a further 68 per cent cut proposed for 2016/17.

It's final annual report for 2014/15 warned: "Against the backdrop of limited resources and insecurities over core funding, it has continued to be difficult to plan or develop services. Uncertainty over the direction of the substitute prescribing service and the subsequent requirement of CADSS staff to support this service has made it difficult to plan service development, which in turn impacts on funding."


Jacqui Diamond is chairman of the CADSS board said in announcing the closure that they were subject of "severe budget cuts" and added : "We have been working closely... with Shetland Islands Council and NHS Shetland to look at ways to find a long-term sustainable position for CADSS, but unfortunately that has proved to be impossible.

"Over the past 15 months we have made significant efforts to source external funding to make up our budget shortfall. However our lack of success at obtaining the necessary additional external funding has made us realise that in today’s very competitive climate this is unlikely to happen, and as a result we have no option but to cease providing services.”

People supported by CADSS were told they would now get help from the NHS Shetland-run Substance Misuse Recovery Service.

But Tavish Scott said users were more likely to use the CADSS than a formal NHS service.

"I fear there are people falling through the gap that didn't previously exist because my take is that CADSS were providing a service, a lot of it not seen, a lot of it careful in terms of a very helpful work with clients who would always go to CADSS because it was a voluntary organisation who were very private in how they helped people. Similarly, people will simply not go to a formal public statutory agency, the NHS or the local authority and that is the problem.

"CADSS only closed earlier this year and no doubt there will be an impact from that, and it won't be a positive impact.

"I think CADSS was a pretty essential tool in the box in terms of helping people struggling with the use of drugs and more work should have been done to either retain the service or to try and find ways to retain the service.

The service was formed in October 2007 following the merger of separate alcohol and drugs services which had been running since the early 1990s. It functioned as a volunteer-run charity supported by grants and public donations.

In its final year it dealt with 236 people concerned about their own or someone else's drug or alcohol misuse.

Nearly half of the 109 problem drug users they dealt with were seeking help for the first time and need one-to-one support.

Of the 145 who left CADSS, 48 percent had achieved all their care plan goals and 42 per cent achieved most or some of them.

Only 15 dropped out without achieving any of their goals. CADSS said: "These are terrific outcomes given the complex nature of the issues, problems and lifestyles of the service user group we are tasked with supporting in recovery."

Some 67 per cent of their problem drug users had reduced or stopped their drug use during their time with the service.

Former CADSS user Trevor Tulloch fears that the lack of help after the closure could lead to a death.


Mr Tulloch, who managed to beat alcohol addiction after using CADSS and is now an award-winning apprentice bricklayer said: "What was great about CADSS, as long as they were open, I could chap on the door and someone would speak to you there and then. You get help right away.

"The level of care you had was second to none. The worry about going to the NHS is that it all ends up very clinical.

"My after care worker was into the psychological side of it, why you do what you do and they got into deep rooted kind of stuff but if you didn't want to go into that you didn't have to.

"All the workers cared about people and genuinely try to help you in anyway they could. You had two parts one to get you clean, and then the aftercare so you were separated from those that were using.

"I knew I couldn't stop drinking. I needed that support and guidance. I tried and failed countless times and the same with people I know who are into drugs. They can't do it themselves. Everyone needs help. If there is no proper service there to do it, then how do you go about it.

"I was a very unpredictable drunk. I used to drink to the levels when I didn't know what I was doing, and I could have done anything. I dread to think what have happened to me if there was no help there when I wanted it.

"That service has saved lives. It helped me turn my life around and countless others.

"If there is nowhere for people to get help, what are they going to do, folk could end up dying over this because there is nowhere for them to go. It's just not good enough."

CADSS had provided a dedicated duty worker system to deal with all requests for help supported with drop-in sessions and phone counselling.


All people with issues wide reaching and complex enough to require an assessment of need and a care package were receiving support services within three weeks of their initial referral.

But it was not just about trying to get users off drugs and drink. A day programme provided healthy activities as a way of a distraction from the "usual poor lifestyle choices".

On offer was gym sessions, creative workshops, photography, tai chi, a self esteem group and day trips.

It also became the centre for a needles exchange and harm minimisation service.

The exchange service was seen by CADSS as an opportunity to educate drug users about the potential dangers to themselves and others of injecting. Clients rose from 23 in 2012/13 to 54 in 2014/15.

Another former CADSS user, who had sought help for a ten-year heroin addiction and managed to get clean said the group had a great reputation.

"I had not been able to keep a job and I knew I had to do something," he said. "I had actually come to Shetland to get away from heroin, but soon I found that it was very easy to find.

"I could see me ending up in prison so I just sought help and while I was on a drug treatment and testing order I was getting tested every week by CADSS and with that and all the help I was getting there I found a way out of the hole I was in.

"I don't know where I would have been without them. It's a special place for me. Really, with the situation on the island we do need to be doing something to support those who have been caught up in drugs."

While Dogs AGainst Drugs, a group of volunteer residents, who run a team of sniffer dogs, are working with officers to stop drugs coming into the area, police believe gangs are bringing in the supply from mainland cities such as Aberdeen, Glasgow and Liverpool.

Det Chief Insp Sutherland said said officers have been successful at stopping many dealers getting in.

Ten days ago a man who was concerned in the supply of heroin worth nearly £7,000 in Shetland was sent to prison for two years.

Peter Henderson, of Grampian Prison, brought the class A drug into the islands by concealing packages in his body and travelling on the NorthLink ferry from Aberdeen, which arrived in Lerwick on 8 April.

Lerwick Sheriff Court was told that in the first instance police acted on intelligence and stopped him as he came off the ferry from Aberdeen.

Chief Inspector Lindsay Tulloch said: "Class A drugs, particularly heroin remains available on Shetland. Police in Shetland work closely with specialist services on the mainland and border policing to identify and intercept those willing to carry illegal drugs for supply on Shetland.

"The supply of illegal drugs in Shetland is one of the area command’s main priorities. As a result of dedicating police resources to detecting individuals and organised crime groups who are targeting Shetland, there has been a significant increase in the number of persons arrested for being concerned in the supply of drugs to Shetland.

"The police depend on the public to provide information of those involved in the supply and illegal use of drugs in our community. Through SADP, we continue to work in partnership to provide awareness and education relating to the dangers of misusing controlled drugs".

SADP chairman Simon Bokor-Ingram was upbeat about the action being taken on the island to tackle the drug problems.

"Shetland has recently redesigned its treatment services for individuals who are misusing alcohol and/or drugs. This redesign has meant people can access services quicker and can get the right treatment at the right time for them.

"The recent drug-related death figures that have been released show an increase across Scotland, however in Shetland we have seen a decrease over the last 12 months. We work closely with all our partners, particularly Police Scotland, as stopping drugs coming into Shetland has to be one of our top priorities."