WHATS NEW? - MARCH 2012

New 'legal highs' Discovered at Rate of One Every Week

Over the Counter Painkillers can cause addiction 'in a week'

Alert Over toxic effect of 'Dragonfly'

Teenage ketamine problems rising, drug charities warn



New 'legal highs' Discovered at Rate of One Every Week


New "legal highs" are being discovered at the rate of one a week, outstripping attempts to control their availability and exposing what some experts claim is the "ridiculous and irrational" government policy of prohibition.

Officials monitoring the European drugs market identified 20 new synthetic psychoactive substances in just four months, according to Paolo Deluca, co-principal investigator at the Psychonaut Research Project, an EU-funded organisation based at King's College London, which studies trends in drug use. He said officials at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), an early-warning unit, had detected a record number of new psychoactives across the EU. The majority were synthetic euphoric stimulants that can imitate the effects of cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamines.

Deluca said that, given the plethora of new substances, the government's attempts to ban legal highs are not a "feasible" solution. "It's also becoming very difficult to know exactly how many new compounds there are, because you have all these brand names and when you test the batch they are different from the following one." The UK, according to his research, remains Europe's largest market for legal highs and synthetic compounds. Campaigners at the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation (TDPF), a charity, said the unprecedented speed at which new drugs are appearing highlights the government's "unsustainable" strategy of banning each one, as well as a basic lack of understanding of how the drugs market functions. Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at TDPF, said attempts to ban one new substance after another was "like a cat chasing its tail". He added: "Each time they ban one, another emerges. It seems to show a blindness to the basic market dynamic, effectively creating a void for backstreet chemists to create another product." The group is one of many urging the government to adopt a regulatory position between total prohibition or an "internet-free-for all".

Deluca cites the case of mephedrone, which despite being banned last year remains as popular as cocaine among teenagers and young adults, according to official figures released in July. Home Office data from the British Crime Survey estimate that around 300,000 16- to 24-year-olds used mephedrone in the previous 12 months, a similar level of popularity to the use of cocaine among the same age bracket. Deluca added: "The legality of the compounds will not stop potential users, only the quality."

The EMCDDA favours generic bans that would cover entire groups of structurally related synthetic compounds, or chemical families, therefore removing the need to ban individual substances as they appear on the market. Deluca said: "It is impossible to implement a ban for every single new compound."

Rolles said legal highs should be investigated and regulated using the same model as conventional pharmaceuticals. "It's just ridiculous, irrational really. If you're not looking at the regulatory options, then you're not following an evidence-based approach – you are following a political mandate."

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Over the Counter Painkillers can cause addiction 'in a week'


Over-the-counter painkillers taken by millions of people can become addictive within just a few days of use, the Government's Medicines Agency has warned.

New restrictions are now being applied to medicines containing codeine, including Nurofen Plus and Solpadeine, that are sold over the counter and are routinely used to ease headaches, back problems and period pain. Clear and 'prominently positioned' warnings will be put on the front of packs and accompanying patient information leaflets, stating: 'Can cause addiction. For three days use only.'

Official figures show that more than 30,000 consumers have become addicted to the drugs, many accidentally, with women most at risk of developing an addiction. Growing concern about the spread of what experts describe as a 'hidden addiction', has led the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to announce a series of measures to counter the problem.

Packets size will be limited to just 32 tablets with larger packs available only by prescription in a bid to curb misuse. New advertising will no longer state that the drugs are remedies for coughs and colds and it will be targeted towards acute and moderate pain. There have been fears of a growing market in 'bulk buying' of these medicines on the internet with many patients and doctors totally unaware of the dangers.

A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Misuse in 2010 warned the 32,000 addicted were just the 'tip of the iceberg'. Some people were taking up to 70 pills a day, putting themselves at risk of serious complications such as bleeding stomach, liver problems, gallstones and depression.

Around 27 million over-the-counter pills containing codeine are sold every year in a painkiller market worth £500 million. Women are feared to be most at risk from addiction. A survey found Solpadeine and Nurofen Plus were the most commonly misused products, followed by generic co-codamol, Syndol and Feminax.

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Alert Over toxic effect of 'Dragonfly'


A potent hallucinogen 'legal high', popular at British festivals last year, is causing concern amongst health professionals. Bromo-Dragonfly (also known as 'B-fly' or just 'Fly') is known to be active in very low doses. Although commonly related to phenethylamine, it has a distinct structure and belongs to a class of substances called benzodifurans. B-fly was initially identified by the European Union's Psychoanut Project through searches conducted in Italy, Norway, Belgium and Finland in 2008. However, first reported cases of recreational abuse can be traced back to 2001. It is typically sold online in the form of blotter paper, liquid and less commonly as pills.

According to users, the effects of this drug as very similar to those of LSD, although much longer lasting (1-3 days). Its primary route of administration is oral. After ingestion the onset of its effects can be delayed for up to 6 hours. This delay has often led users to ingest another dose of the product thinking that the first dose was inadequate to cause the effects and/or to use additional drugs while waiting for the first psychoactive effects to appear.

Reported adverse reactions include: nausea and vomiting, headache, hypertension, tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, lung collapse, gastrointestinal disturbances, muscle tension, tremor, body temperature fluctuations, anxiety, panic attacks, arrhythmia, heart murmurs, slight pupil dilatation, convulsion, stomach tightness, hallucinations, flashbacks, memory disturbances, confusion and even acute anxiety attacks.

B-fly is a very toxic substance and the risk of overdose is very high. Since 2007 various hospitalizations and fatalities have been recorded in various EU Member States such as Sweden, Denmark and the UK. In October 2009, Bromo-Dragonfly received increased attention in online drug forum communities, when a batch was mislabeled and sold by an online retailer as the related, but much less potent, benzodifuran compound 2C-B-Fly. This is has been linked to a number of subsequent fatalities and non-fatal overdoses in Europe and US.

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Teenage ketamine problems rising, drug charities warn


Addiction charities are reporting a sharp rise in the number of young people who say they are worried about their use of ketamine. Addaction, one of the UK's largest charities helping people with drug problems, says it has seen a 68% increase in the last year in the number of inquiries from teenagers using ketamine, up from 151 to 254. The charity believes surge in the drugs popularity is down to people switching from mephedrone after it was made illegal in April 2010. Laurie Yearley, who works with young people at an Addaction clinic in Buckinghamshire, said that last year he was seeing two or three people a week using ketamine as a "secondary drug". He is now seeing six or seven a week for whom it is their main drug.

"People started using ketamine because it was cheap, but then they went on to mephedrone, which was legal," Yearley said. "But when mephedrone was made illegal they went back to ketamine because they said it was like a milder form of mephedrone, which has pretty harsh side effects." Yearley said price was a major reason for ketamine's popularity. "It can cost as little as £6 a gram. If you split it between four people, that's less than a pint. Because it's class C – less than cannabis – there's a feeling among young people that it can't be that bad."

But Yearley said he was concerned that heavy ketamine users were trebling or even quadrupling their intake in barely a week to achieve the same effects. "A lot of youngsters are snorting the drug because they think they are down there with the big boys who are doing coke. Part of it is an image thing. But if you start using it a bit on Monday and on Tuesday, your tolerance disappears quickly and by Thursday you need to spend £10 to get the same effect and the following week it's £20." An anaesthetic that was used in Vietnam to sedate wounded troops, ketamine is still used to anaesthetise children. It is also used in veterinary circles as a horse anaesthetic. The drug is also a hallucinogen with users drawn to its "disassociative effects". Many claim it can give them a feeling of being detached from their bodies. But as it is an anaesthetic, experts warn it is dangerous when mixed with depressants, such as alcohol, combining to slow or shut down the central nervous system. Health workers report that users experience a range of physical side-effects including blood in their urine, as the drug crystallises in their bladders. Users also refer to "K-Cramps", described as "terrible period pains", and to terrifying comedowns.

Harry Shapiro, of Drugscope, said he was aware that agencies were reporting increased numbers of young people coming forward to say they were experiencing problems with the drug.

"Ketamine was considered a party drug because it emerged in the 90s, but it's not really when you consider the effects. Accounts suggest it's anything but a benign drug, with physical and psychological impacts. It's an anaesthetic, and people have had accidents while under its effect and not realised they were injured." Experts suggest it is too soon to confirm whether claims that its use is on the increase among young people indicate the start of a trend. According to the British Crime Survey, in 2007, 0.3% of 16-to 24-year-olds used ketamine within the last month, compared with 0.9% last year. But these numbers are extremely low and not considered statistically significant by experts. However, Yearley said it was definitely the case more youngsters were doing it. "I'd say it was split down the middle in terms of use, but young girls seemed to get messed up more on it," he said. Jane, who is 19 and has sought help from Addaction, said she was doing six or seven grams a day at one stage. "It's like mentally addictive when you've done it for some time; life is not normal unless you've sniffed a line of K."

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