Source: The Guardian
11 March 2012
Moves to criminalise the new wave of synthetic drugs, known as legal highs, appear to have backfired after it emerged that mephedrone is now more popular among clubbers than when it was not banned.
Confirmation comes in a survey of London club-goers carried out by researchers at Lancaster University and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust. Published on Monday in the Journal of Substance Use, it assesses the impact of the classification of mephedrone as a class B drug.
The survey builds on earlier work, conducted one evening in July 2010, three months after the drug was made illegal, which found the popularity of mephedrone had surpassed that of all other drugs, with 27% of people questioned in two gay-friendly south London dance clubs reporting that they had or were going to take it that night.
The results of the follow-up study, conducted at the same two clubs in July 2011, found mephedrone had become even more popular. On the night the study was conducted, 41% of club-goers said they had taken or intended to take mephedrone that night.
Gay club-goers are seen as “early adopters” of psychoactive drugs so the researchers claim the findings are likely to have implications for the wider population in the future. “Our first study indicated club-goers appeared undeterred by the legal classification of this emergent psychoactive substance, but it was taken very soon after the ban so we felt it was important to test the results by repeating the study 12 months later,” said Dr Fiona Measham, senior lecturer in criminology at Lancaster University.
“Since we carried out our first study the purity of mephedrone has fallen, the price has risen, yet the results of our second study showed both use and popularity had increased in the year since the ban.
“The results of our two studies showed that not only were club-goers undeterred by the change in law, but the drug had in fact increased in popularity among our sample.”
The trade in the illicit drug, also known as m-cat or meow, is lucrative, with one dealer in the north-west reputedly running a £500,000-a-week operation. The drug is manufactured in China and posted to the UK in kilo packages, according to drugs experts, who fear customs cannot keep up with the trade.
Anecdotal evidence suggests a sub-section of heroin users are now choosing to inject mephedrone, which is usually taken in powder form and snorted like cocaine.
The popularity of mephedrone, which produces a mild sense of euphoria but has been blamed for paranoia, heart palpitations, insomnia and memory problems, has led to price increases. A gram of the synthetic drug costs around £25 now compared with around £20 a year ago. Prior to the ban it cost £10 a gram. Its increased popularity is thought to be partly the result of the falling quality of cocaine, which costs around £40 a gram but is mixed with other agents so is only about 25% pure.
“These findings question the consequences, if not the intentions, of a drug policy that focuses primarily on banning a drug and presuming that legislation will result in a reduction in supply and demand,” Measham said.
The survey found the dance drug GHB – also known as GBL – was the second most popular drug among clubbers, with 24% of those questioned saying they intended to take it that night. Of 309 people questioned, 17% said they would be taking cocaine, while 16% said they would use cannabis.
“Our survey results show there is a need to ensure a more targeted approach to reducing the use of novel psychoactive substances such as mephedrone and that this should not just simply focus on controlling the substances,” said Dr David Wood, a consultant clinical toxicologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’..
The survey comes as the government seeks advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on whether to issue a temporary ban on methoxetamine, a new substance being sold as “safe ketamine”.
“You can’t hold back the floodgates in terms of these white powders,” Measham said. “We need to find alternative ways of dealing with this issue.”
Two drugs awareness groups, the Amy Winehouse Foundation and the Angelus Foundation, are now calling for drug and alcohol education to be made compulsory as part of the national curriculum.
The two groups have launched a petition that could trigger a debate in parliament on the issue. The petition can be found at: epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/30280Republish