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DrugScope Street Drug Trends Survey highlights growing problems with mephedrone

22 November 2012

More drug services are seeing people coming forward with problems associated with their use of mephedrone – not only those on the club scene, but teenagers suffering psychological problems and existing heroin and crack users compulsively injecting the drug, some several times a day.

The DrugScope annual survey compiles and analyses feedback from drug services, police forces, drug action teams and service user groups across twenty UK towns and cities. The survey provides a snapshot of the current UK drug scene, both patterns of use and average national prices for drugs.

Mephedrone, a powerful stimulant drug with various street names like ‘meow meow’, ‘MCAT’ and ‘bubble’, first came to public attention in 2009. At that time, it was still legal and being sold in ‘head shops’ and bought online. The main users of the drug then appeared to be mainly students and others on the club scene: mephedrone was dubbed (and still is) ‘a party drug’. Following concerns about the dangers of the drug and initial high profile reports of mephedrone-related deaths, which largely proved incorrect, (see footnote 7) the drug was banned in 2010. While the new law might have driven the drug from ‘head shop’ shelves, dissuaded those curious about the drug when it was legal and caused a brief drop in supply, the drug gained some traction on the UK drug scene. Drug treatment agencies are now seeing the fall-out from the continued use and availability of mephedrone.

From the survey, those running young people’s services report teenagers coming forward with behavioural problems associated with using the drug, confirming news reports concerning the hospitalisation of young people who have succumbed to panic attacks, paranoia and general loss of control.

Particularly worrying are reports of compulsive injecting of the drug, in some extreme cases, more than twenty times a day, not only by existing heroin and crack users who are known to services, but also those who have never previously injected drugs before or who have been successfully reducing or stopping their use of other drugs. Similar developments in Ireland have required some users to undergo plastic surgery to repair skin damage to arms.

Martin Barnes, DrugScope’s Chief Executive said:

“All the indicators of drug use in the UK show an overall decline with more people recovering following drug treatment. But as our survey shows, there is no room for complacency on this. With the arrival of drugs such as mephedrone and the whole array of synthetic cannabis compounds and other new drugs, we may well have a drug scene in transition.

The rise in mephedrone injecting is especially worrying. Drug treatment agencies need to be able to deal with this new problem and alert to the risk of numbers injecting increasing. With some people engaged in excessive daily injecting, there is a risk of blood born viruses such as hepatitis C, where already over 40% of injecting drug users are infected. With so many serious problems now related to mephedrone use, to continue to describe it as a 'party' or 'club drug' risks downplaying the harms associated with its use”.

ENDS

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact David Ader, Communications Officer, on 0207 234 9737 (davida@drugscope.org.uk). If you are calling out of hours, please call 07736 895 563.

Notes to editors

1. Druglink is a bi-monthly current affairs magazine about drugs and drug issues, published by the charity DrugScope. For more information on how to subscribe go to: http://www.drugscope.org.uk/publications/AboutDruglink

2. Druglink surveyed agencies in Belfast, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bristol, Gloucester, Ipswich, Liverpool, London, Luton, Manchester, Middlesborough, Newcastle, Nottingham, Penzance, Portsmouth, Sheffield, Torquay and York.

3. Other key findings

The fall in the quality of heroin, the rise of internet drug sales and the importation of illicit prescription drugs have combined to highlight the second most noticeable trend – the use and availability of diazepam-type tranquilliser drugs with some evidence of pill making activity in Scotland – and the use of the pain killer Tramadol. The drug enforcement agency in Scotland also reported a growing trade in supplying heroin dealers with bulk orders of adulterants to cut the drug. This mirrors findings from a previous DrugScope drug trends survey relating to cocaine.

4. Drug Misuse Declared: British Crime Survey 2011-12

Link to the latest BCS survey showing incidence of mephedrone use in the general population

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/crime-research/drugs-misuse-dec-1112/new-measures

5. National Treatment Agency club drug survey

http://www.nta.nhs.uk/Club%20drugs%20report%202012.aspx

6. EMCDDA – European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction latest annual report showing a rise in the availability of legal highs

http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/annual-report/2012

7. National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths Annual Report 2011 (PDF)

http://www.sgul.ac.uk/research/projects/icdp/our-work-programmes/pdfs/np-SAD%2012th%20annual%20report%202011.pdf

During 2009, when mephedrone was legal, a number of mephedrone-related deaths were reported in the media which proved inaccurate when the full forensic data was presented by the coroner. Either mephedrone was not involved at all or it was one of a number of drugs consumed such that it was not possible to ascribe the death to one particular drug. Page 95 of the latest report specifically notes an increase in the number of mephedrone ‘mentions’ in toxicology reports, but this is not the same as saying that mephedrone use was the cause of deaths and as the report notes, at the time of the report’s publication, the outcome of many of these cases had yet to be determined.

8. Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Club Drug Clinic

http://www.clubdrugclinic.com/

9. South London and Maudsley Party Drug Clinic

http://www.national.slam.nhs.uk/services/adult-services/partydrugs/

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