WHATS NEW? - October 2014

Dark net drugs adverts 'double in less than a year'

Wales NHS to offer MS cannabis drug Sativex

'Most' gay men have tried drugs, suggests magazine survey

Two 'legal highs' to be made Class A drugs

Affectionless, strict parenting increases drug and alcohol use in kids, study claims

Cannabis-smoking couples are 'less likely to engage in domestic violence'

Rise in soldiers testing positive for steroid use

London is the 'cocaine capital of Europe' - and use of the drug peaks on a Tuesday

Councils should prioritise support for young drug users

Smoking during pregnancy in England 'lowest on record'



Dark net drugs adverts 'double in less than a year'

The number of listings offering illegal drugs for sale on the "dark net" appears to have more than doubled in less than a year according to a BBC investigation.

In October 2013, there were 18,174 drugs listings across four main markets, according to the internet safety organisation Digital Citizens Alliance, based in the US. A recent trawl of the dark net by BBC News revealed there were now 43,175 listings across 23 markets.

Britain's National Crime Agency recognises the drug trade on the dark net is a threat.
"It's a big problem," says Caroline Young, deputy director of the NCA's Organised Crime Command. "In our threat assessment we have cocaine and heroin as a high priority, and because it's cyber-enabled that makes it even more of a high priority."

Internet safety campaigner Adam Benson expressed concern at the findings.

"We still think the internet can be a wonderful tool for consumers and businesses, but we do worry good people and companies get caught up in the web spun by criminals and rogue operators. That will slowly erode the trust and confidence we have in the internet." said Mr. Benson, deputy executive director of Digital Citizens Alliance.

An annual survey of drug using habits provides additional evidence that increasing numbers of people are going online to buy illegal drugs. The Global Drug Survey has taken place each year since 1999.

For the 2014 survey, more than 79,000 people worldwide were questioned about their drug habits. 25% of British respondents said they had accessed dark net drugs markets.

The survey's founder, Dr. Adam Winstock, said it was just like the growth of any e-commerce. "Better quality, better range, more convenient," he said, "and certainly in the case of drugs, avoiding having to come into contact with dealers."

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Wales NHS to offer MS cannabis drug Sativex

The NHS in Wales will be the first in the UK to fund a cannabis-based medicine for people with multiple sclerosis. Sativex is taken as an oral spray and has been approved by the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group (AWMSG). It will be available on prescription to treat muscle spasms for MS patients who have not responded to other medicine.

The MS Society said Wales was leading the way in the treatment. Its programme director for policy, Sally Hughes, added: "Muscle spasms and stiffness in MS can be painful and distressing and so the availability of a treatment that can potentially alleviate these symptoms is good news.

"We particularly welcome this decision considering the draft NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) clinical guideline, published in April, rejected this treatment for use on the NHS in Wales and England based on a flawed assessment of the drug's cost effectiveness. For some time we've been aware of people in Wales paying privately for this licensed treatment; this decision should make life a lot easier for them."

Sativex is the first cannabis-based medicine to be licensed in the UK. Tony Wiggins, chairman of the Cardiff and Vale MS Society, has trialled Sativex and called it a "tremendous step forward. It's good for spasms and other effects of MS - and it does work and if a treatment works then it should be made available."

Wales Health Minister Mark Drakeford said: "Following the appraisal of Sativex by the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, I am pleased to announce we will be making the medicine available on the Welsh NHS to those who need it. I hope this decision will help ease the suffering of some of those who have to live with the reality of MS everyday."

Director of service development at the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, Amy Bowen, said: "We are extremely pleased that people with MS in Wales will finally have better access to Sativex. As a charity we have campaigned over a long period for Sativex to be widely available because of the significant impact that MS spasticity can have on daily activities. We just hope that this recommendation will now lead to Sativex being more easily accessible in the rest of the UK."

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'Most' gay men have tried drugs, suggests magazine survey

Three-quarters of gay and bisexual men have used drugs recreationally, according to a survey by a leading magazine for the gay community. One thousand anonymous gay and bisexual men aged 18 to 74 from across the UK took part in the online survey for Gay Times.

The magazine investigated the idea that gay mens' "party lifestyles" involve taking a lot of drugs. Editor Darren Scott said: "Drug taking is prevalent in all walks of life. There's definitely a misconception that gay and bisexual men lead these lifestyles."

The research suggests over half of gay and bisexual men had tried cannabis and poppers, over a third had taken cocaine and ecstasy and 11% had tried crystal meth. The survey also found gay men are more likely to take part in risky sexual behaviour, including unprotected sex, if they have drank alcohol, rather than taken drugs.

Darren Scott said: "While there is growing concern about a rise in Mephedrone and crystal meth, what is actually more of a worry is the risks men take after taking alcohol."

It is the first time Gay Times has carried out a poll of this size and depth. The findings come a few weeks after a separate survey found gay or bisexual men were more likely to take drugs compared to straight men.

The Crime Survey for England and Wales looked into how many adults had taken illicit drugs in the past year. The figures suggest a third of gay or bisexual men had used drugs, compared with 23% of gay or bisexual women and 11% of heterosexual men.

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Two 'legal highs' to be made Class A drugs

Two groups of so called 'legal highs' that imitate the hallucinogenic effects of LSD and of heroin are to be banned as Class A drugs on the recommendation of the governments drug advisors.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, is expected to confirm that AMT, which acts in a similar way to LSD, should be banned along with other chemicals known as tryptamines that have been sold at festivals and in head shops with names including "rockstar" and "green beans".

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said the tryptamine group of chemicals had become widely available in Britain. The experts said four deaths in 2012 and three deaths in 2013 in Britain were attributed to tryptamines. The ACMD also said a synthetic opiate known as AH-7921, sometimes sold as "legal heroin", should be class A. It follows the death last August of Jason Nock, 41, who overdosed on AH-7921 after buying the "research chemical" on the internet for £25 to help him sleep.

Professor Les Iversen, the ACMD chair, said the substances marketed as legal highs could cause serious damage to health and, in some cases, even death. He said the ACMD would continue to review new substances as they were picked up by the forensic early warning system in Britain.

"The UK is leading the way by using generic definitions to ban groups of similar compounds to ensure we keep pace within the fast moving marketplace for these drugs," said Iversen.

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Affectionless, strict parenting increases drug and alcohol use in kids, study claims

A new study across six European countries found that strict parenting increases the risk that children will use drugs and alcohol. The study also found that lax parenting, characterised by the absence of control and affection, also has the same damaging effect.

The European Institute of Studies on Prevention (IREFREA), based in Mallorca, Spain, alongside other universities, interviewed 7,718 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19, across Spain, Britain, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
The team's aim was to analyse different types of parent-child relationships to find which one is most successful in warding off drug experimentation.

The researchers placed each family into one of four categories: authoritative – those which "give clear rules, and affectionately and flexibly reason with the children when asking for their compliance;" authoritarian – as before but with less affection; neglectful – exercising low levels of control and being "scarcely affectionate"; and lastly, indulgent – exercising a low level of control but with more emotion.

The most beneficial relationships were found to be those that are authoritative and indulgent, with the most harmful being the authoritarian and neglectful.

"From a global personal health perspective, the 'authoritative' and 'indulgent' parental styles equally protect against the use of drugs," report author Simon Calafat said, adding that this observation was previously associated with Mediterranean and South American cultures only.

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Cannabis-smoking couples are 'less likely to engage in domestic violence'

Husbands and wives who frequently smoke cannabis are less likely to engage in domestic violence than those who consume the drug less regularly, a new study has suggested.

Researchers from Yale University, University of Buffalo and Rutgers followed 634 married couples for nine years. They found that when couples used cannabis three times or more each month they reported the lowest number of domestic violence incidents (intimate partner violence) over the first nine years of marriage. Intimate partner violence (IPV) was defined by the researchers as acts of physical aggressions, including hitting and beating.

The couples completed regular questionnaires throughout the study on how often they used the drug and other substances, such as alcohol. They were also asked to report violence from their spouse within the last year, and any violent acts that had occurred during the year before marriage.

The study concluded that the more often both spouses smoked cannabis, the less likely they were to engage in domestic violence.

Lead researcher Kenneth Leonard, director of the UB Research Institute on Addictions, said the findings suggest cannabis use is predictive of lower levels of aggression towards a person's partner, but only over the course of a year.

"As in other survey studies of marijuana and partner violence, our study examines patterns of marijuana use and the occurrence of violence within a year period," he said. "It does not examine whether using marijuana on a given day reduces the likelihood of violence at that time."

Mr Leonard noted other factors could be responsible for the link between husbands and wives who use cannabis and lower rates of domestic violence. "It is possible, for example, that — similar to a drinking partnership — couples who use marijuana together may share similar values and social circles," said Mr Leonard, "and it is this similarity that is responsible for reducing the likelihood of conflict."

The authors suggested chronic cannabis users exhibit "blunted emotional reaction to threat stimuli" which could also reduce the likelihood of aggressive behaviour. Mr Leonard is now hoping for further research examining day-to-day cannabis and alcohol use and the likelihood of domestic violence occurring on the same day before drawing stronger conclusions.

The study was published in the online edition of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors in August.

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Rise in soldiers testing positive for steroid use

There has been an increase in soldiers testing positive for steroid use while serving in the army, according to new figures obtained by the BBC.

A Freedom of Information request has shown that in 2013 the number of failed tests increased by five times from around 20 to 100, since steroid testing started in 2008.

The Ministry of Defence suggests that as operations are winding down in Afghanistan, troops may be turning to the drug in their spare time. It says it has a zero tolerance policy with clear guidelines.

Steroids can help build up muscle mass quickly, meaning you can train harder and for longer. The side effects include hair loss, heart problems and acne.
The BBC examined drug test data for the last ten years for the Army, Navy and RAF. Recreational drug detections (cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy etc.) have either stayed constant or gradually declined.

There was also a slight increase in steroid detections within the RAF.

Anabolic steroids are Class C drugs which are only meant to be sold by pharmacists with a doctor's prescription. It is legal to possess or import steroids as long as they are for personal use, but they are banned by the MOD and it is against the law to sell or supply them to others.

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London is the 'cocaine capital of Europe' - and use of the drug peaks on a Tuesday

London is the cocaine capital of Europe and has the highest use of the drug than any other city on the continent, new research has suggested.

The European Drug Report 2014 analysed the sewage systems of 42 cities for traces of the drug and found the English capital had the highest cocaine use of any city tested, with consumption of the drug appearing to peak on a Tuesday.

The samples, which were taken and tested during a week in 2013 to provide a forensic snapshot of drug use, found London was one of the cities with the highest use of ecstasy.

London's sewage water contained 711 mg of benzoylecgonine, the main chemical in cocaine, per 1,000 people, compared to 393 mg in Amsterdam and 233 mg in Milan.

In general, cocaine and ecstasy were the more popular drugs in western and some southern cities, while crystal meth remained the most popular in eastern Europe.
However, overall use of the drug is continuing to decline in countries such as Denmark and the United Kingdom after a peak in 2008. Eleven out of the 12 countries also reported falls in cocaine use in surveys undertaken between 2011 and 2013.

The international report also warned against the increasing use of so-called 'legal highs', which are sold over the internet and often try to mimic the effects of drugs such as cocaine or LSD.

The agency identified more than 80 new chemical drugs last year, making a total of almost 250 detected over the past four years. It warned: "Europe's drugs problem is becoming increasingly complex with new challenges emerging that raise concerns for public health. Some positive signs in relation to the more established drugs [...] is counter-balanced by new threats posed by synthetic drugs, including stimulants, new psychoactive substances and medicinal products, all of which are becoming more prominent in a changing European drug market."

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Councils should prioritise support for young drug users

Local authorities are being urged to prioritise drug abuse support for young people from the age of 10, in latest guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

The NICE guidance calls for better targeting and support of young people at risk of substance misuse to ensure problems do not escalate and bring them into contact with the criminal justice system as they become teenagers.

Councils, which have responsibility for tackling drug abuse as part of their public health remit, are being urged to develop a local strategy to target and support vulnerable young people at risk of addiction. NICE recommends that support programmes need to be made available swiftly to the young person and have a strong focus on support for their family as well. This should include parental skills training. Such support should be offered to families of 11- to 16-year-olds at risk of substance abuse in particular.

NICE also wants councils to assess 10- to 12-year-olds with behavioural problems to see if they are at risk of developing a drug problem. Group therapy is among support NICE recommends for this younger age group. Councils are also being urged to commission needle and syringe programmes to prevent the spread of disease among users, including younger people with drug problems.

According to NICE, the 16 to 24 age group is the most likely to be frequent drug users. While three in every 100 adults are frequent drug users, this proportion rises to five in every 100 for those in this younger age bracket. The guidance also says early intervention can save money in the long term. NICE estimates the cost of providing health services to a problem drug user over their lifetime is £35,000, compared to the £445,000 cost to the tax payer of dealing with crime associated with their drug use.

NICE director of public health Professor Mike Kelly said: "This briefing advises that a range of steps are taken, such as assessing local need to ensure that services are targeted to where they are most needed, services and professionals identifying young people who are at risk of using drugs, and referring them to services that can support them."

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Smoking during pregnancy in England 'lowest on record'

The number of women smoking during pregnancy across England is down to 12%, the lowest recorded level, figures for 2013-2014 show.

But there were large regional differences, with 5% in London smoking up to nearly 21% in parts of the North East. Rates have fallen 16% since first measured in 2006-7, the Health and Social Care Information Centre said.

The government has set a target to reduce the rate to 11% or less women smoking at the time of delivery by 2015. The report shows 39% of local health areas have met this target so far.

NHS Blackpool had the highest rate, with 28% of pregnant women smoking. Other areas with high smoking in pregnancy rates were South Devon, the Isle of Wight, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire. Meanwhile, central London had the lowest rate of 2%.

Kingsley Manning, chair at the HSCIC said it was "encouraging" to see the decline in numbers of pregnant women who smoked. But he added: "There is still a little way to go to achieve the national ambition. Today's figures highlight there is a still work to be done and it is fundamental that mothers-to-be are aware of the damaging effects smoking can have on their baby."

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