WHATS NEW? - JULY 2012

Methoxetamine: New powers used to ban legal high

Cannabis farms: 21 found each day...According to police chiefs

Mephedrone more popular since being banned – survey

Middle-age drug use rising

Drug Policy Commission back 'legal high' warning

Coalition slashes government spending on drugs education by 80%

Ketamine review ordered by Home Office

LSD 'helps alcoholics to give up drinking'

UK could become 'smuggling hub' for herbal high khat



Methoxetamine: New powers used to ban legal high


The legal high methoxetamine, or mexxy, has become the first drug to be banned temporarily under new government powers. The drug, used as an alternative to ketamine, will be made illegal for up to 12 months. The government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will then decide whether it should be permanently controlled.

Early research has found evidence that use of methoxetamine can lead to "significant additional toxicity", including agitation, a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure, as well as unsteadiness on the feet. Under the new 'temporary bans' system anyone caught making, supplying or importing the drug will face up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Police and border officials will also be allowed to search or detain anyone they suspect of having the drug and seize, keep or dispose of a substance they suspect is methoxetamine. Crime Prevention Minister Lord Henley said: "Making this drug illegal sends a clear message to users and those making and supplying it that we are stepping up our fight against substances which are dangerous and ruin the lives of victims and their families.

"It is important for users of these harmful substances to understand that just because they are described as legal highs, it does not mean they are safe or should be seen as a 'safer' alternative to illegal substances." ACMD chairman Professor Les Iversen said: "The evidence shows that the use of methoxetamine can cause harm to users. Many of the health effects... are similar to those of ketamine, which is already controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Users have also reported experiencing other serious effects including agitation, cardiovascular conditions and hypertension."

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Cannabis farms: 21 found each day...According to police chiefs


An average of more than 21 cannabis factories were found daily in Britain last year, police chiefs say. Officers confiscated marijuana in the UK with a street value of £100 million, according to an Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) report. The number of farms discovered increased to 7,865, more than doubling in four years.The UK is at "significant risk" from criminal gangs who cultivate cannabis on a commercial scale, says the report.

It estimates that the number of recorded cannabis production offences in the period from April 2011 to March 2012 will rise to 16,464, up from 14,982 in 2010-11.

In the last two years, police forces have seized 1.1 million cannabis plants. Based on a street value of £134 per ounce, the drugs are valued at £207 million.

Commander Allan Gibson of the Metropolitan Police, ACPO's lead on cannabis cultivation, said: "Increasing numbers of organised crime groups are diverting into this area of criminality, but we are determined to continue to disrupt such networks and reduce the harm caused by drugs."

The report also recorded an increase in robberies, burglaries and violence - including the use of firearms - linked to cannabis farms. There is evidence of "taxing", or stealing of crops, while debt bondage is being used to control some cultivators.

Criminals are spreading risk, to reduce detection and financial losses, by paying a large number of "gardeners" to manage smaller crops in residential areas. The study notes a shift from cannabis farms in commercial and industrial properties to "multiple site" small scale factories.

It also says that with the economic downturn and a reduction in amounts supplied by drug dealers, the number of personal use cultivation offences is rising. Police intelligence suggests the purchase of seeds and hydroponic equipment (for growing the plants without soil) is on the increase.

More farms were found in the West Yorkshire force area - 936, or 42 factories per 100,000 people - than any other in the country. But South Yorkshire had 64 farms for every 100,000 people, the highest per capita in the UK, with 851 farms. Some 663 farms were found in the West Midlands or 25 per 100,000 people, while the Metropolitan Police had 608 farms, or eight per 100,000 people.

The highest rise in the number of farms since 2009/10 was recorded in Devon and Cornwall, where the number rose 1,664% per cent from 11 to a projected total of 183.

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Mephedrone more popular since being banned – survey


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 recently published in the Journal of Substance Use.

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'..

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Middle-age drug use rising


Illicit drug use among the over-50s has risen tenfold since the mid-Nineties. Researchers at Kings College in London say the growth of drug use among the middle aged and elderly has been long suspected but never investigated and its effects on the ageing brain are unknown.

Almost one in 10 Londoners in their sixth decade is taking illegal drugs, according to the findings based on two household surveys of almost 4,000 people. The commonest drug used was cannabis but there were clear differences between those over and under the age of 65, and between London and the rest of the country.

In inner London 9 per cent of those aged 50 to 64 reported using cannabis in the past 12 months compared with 1.8 per cent elsewhere. Among the over-65s, usage rates were 1.1 per cent in London and 0.4 per cent elsewhere in England.

Other drugs also figured but at lower rates. In London one in 200 over-50s reported taking cocaine, ecstasy or LSD, with fewer using magic mushrooms, amyl nitrate ("poppers") or amphetamines. The commonest drug after cannabis taken illicitly was tranquillisers. Professor Robert Stewart of the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London, who led the study published in Age and Ageing, said: "The key message of this paper confirms something that has been long suspected but which has not, to our knowledge, ever been formally investigated in the UK, namely that illicit drug use will become more common in older generations over the next one to two decades.

"We know very little about the effects of drugs like cannabis in older people and we will need to work fast if research is to keep up with its wider use at these ages. Our data suggest large numbers of people are entering old age with lifestyles about which we know little in terms of their effects on health. Health service staff providing care for older people should be aware of the possibility of illicit drug use as previous research suggests this has often been missed."

The scale of the change between generations is revealed in figures showing over five times more people under 65 had ever tried cannabis (11.4 per cent), compared with those who were older (1.7 per cent). Londoners were much more likely to be familiar with cannabis with 9.4 per cent over 65 and 42.8 per cent under 65 saying they had tried it.

The authors say the link between drug use and risk of neurodegenerative disorders has been little studied and long-term effects need to be examined.

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Drug Policy Commission back 'legal high' warning


Drug campaigners have backed the warning from police chiefs that new Government powers to ban legal highs will not work. The UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC), which analyses drug laws, said simply adding to the long list of substances already banned "won't make much difference".

Roger Howard, the UKDPC's chief executive, said: "We are deluding ourselves if we think that the temporary ban will solve the problem."

It comes after the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said the solution to tackling legal highs does not lie in "adding inexorably to the list of illicit substances". The police chiefs questioned "the extent to which legislation can realistically be used to address active choices being made by (predominantly young) people".

Mr Howard said: "It's right for the Government to react quickly when a worrying new drug emerges. But as ACPO have said, just adding the drug to the long list already controlled won't make much difference. The police and forensics are under too much pressure already to be able to offer much deterrent to potential users."

He went on: "We should think instead about what other powers we can use. Trading standards controls could provide a boosted first line of defence. We should encourage retailers to work with the authorities to reduce the damage that drug use can cause, and allow us to bring some discipline to an unregulated market."

Even the Government's own drugs advisers have concerns over the new powers, saying they hope a better way of tackling legal highs could be found. Professor Les Iversen, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said: "Picking them off one by one is not necessarily very productive. As one substance is banned, another one is produced which has similar effects but which is designed to avoid the scope of the ban, he said.

"Hopefully we can find a better way of addressing the problem, rather than just hitting the compounds one by one." Speaking at a public meeting in central London in March, he said consumer protection legislation and the Medicines Act 1968 could be used instead. And he warned that the committee could become overwhelmed if too many legal highs were banned by the Government.

Professor David Nutt, who resigned as the ACMD's chairman in November 2009 over the Government's decision to reclassify cannabis from a class C to a class B drug, also backed the police chiefs' warning.

Prof Nutt, chairman of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, said: "Comments by police chiefs on the inability of the current system of legislation to effectively address drug harms shows just how far we have come in our understanding of how to best tackle the drugs issue.

"Acpo's pragmatic appraisal should indicate to us all that we need to take a long look at the current approach to drugs and ask whether it really best reflects where harms lie and how best to reduce them. If we are serious about preventing harm, it is essential that we take an objective look at the evidence."

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Coalition slashes government spending on drugs education by 80%


Government spending on drugs education has been slashed by 80% since the coalition came to power despite claims by ministers that public information campaigns are central to their anti-drugs strategy. The figures from the Department of Health have been condemned by those working in drugs education who say a vital public service is being eroded at a time when it has never been needed more.

The figures show that spending on drugs education – including information services available to those in need of help – has fallen from £3.9m in 2009-10 to £0.5m in 2010-11.

In February the Drug Education Forum, the main source of expertise on drug education in England that disseminates research on drugs and drug education to teachers, had its £60,000 government grant withdrawn. The forum brings together over thirty 30 national bodies with expertise and professional interest in promoting and developing good practice in drug education in schools, youth services and other settings.

Andrew Brown, director of programmes at Mentor, the drug and alcohol prevention charity, said: "It is shocking that at a time when official figures show that one in five 15-year-olds took cannabis last year, and one in ten 10 have been drunk three times or more in the last month, the government chooses to reduce its commitment and prevention."

The DoH figures have been included in the UK annual report to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

Money to the drug advice service "Frank" was cut substantially when the coalition imposed its cuts in 2010.

The Amy Winehouse Foundation has joined forces with another young people's charity, the Angelus Foundation, to spearhead a new national campaign to make drug and alcohol education part of the national curriculum, after the government dropped plans to do so. The late singer's father, Mitch, helped launch the initiative in the House of Commons amid rising concern over "legal highs", "party drugs" and excessive alcohol consumption.

Angelus has launched a petition on the Downing Street website which could force the government to grant a special debate in the Commons if it attracts 100,000 signatures.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to leave the precise method and amount of drugs education to individual head teachers. The Department for Education said it published clear advice on drugs to schools last month setting out how they can address drug misuse, "including giving accurate information through the Frank campaign".

Angelus maintains, however, that drug and alcohol education in many schools is inadequate. It cites surveys showing that 60% of state schools do an hour or less a year and says 70% of former state school pupils cannot recall any drugs education at all.

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Ketamine review ordered by Home Office


A review of Class C drug ketamine has been ordered by the Home Office.

It follows concerns about its increased use and the harm the drug can cause.

Home Secretary Theresa May has asked independent experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to update their advice.

High doses can suppress heart function and lead to unconsciousness, with some regular ketamine users experiencing serious bladder damage.

The review will run alongside other aspects of the ACMD's annual work programme for 2012/13, which includes monitoring new psychoactive substances - so-called 'legal highs' - as well as reviews into khat and cocaine.

The government has grown concerned about the increased popularity of ketamine among young people. Home Secretary Theresa May said: "Our annual work programme sets out the government's priorities for tackling drug issues over the coming year, and seeks expert advice from the ACMD to help develop our evidence-based drugs policy. As well as the council's important ongoing work, we are becoming increasingly concerned by new evidence and heightened public concern about the popularity and potential harms of ketamine, which is why I have asked the council to revisit its earlier advice on the drug."

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LSD 'helps alcoholics to give up drinking'


One dose of the hallucinogenic drug LSD could help those addicted to alcohol give up drinking, according to an analysis of studies performed in the 1960s.

A study, presented in the Journey of Psychopharmacology, looked at data from six trials and more than 500 patients. It said there was a "significant beneficial effect" on alcohol abuse, which lasted several months after the drug was taken.

LSD is a class A drug in the UK and is one of the most powerful hallucinogens ever identified. It appears to work by blocking a chemical in the brain, serotonin, which controls functions including perception, behaviour, hunger and mood.

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology analysed earlier studies on the drug between 1966 and 1970. Patients were all taking part in alcohol treatment programmes, but some were given a single dose of LSD of between 210 and 800 micrograms.

For the group of patients taking LSD, 59% showed reduced levels of alcohol misuse compared with 38% in the other group. This effect was maintained six months after taking the hallucinogen, but it disappeared after a year. Those taking LSD also reported higher levels of abstinence.

The report's authors, Teri Krebs and Pal-Orjan Johansen, said: "A single dose of LSD has a significant beneficial effect on alcohol misuse." They suggested that more regular doses might lead to a sustained benefit.
"Given the evidence for a beneficial effect of LSD on alcoholism, it is puzzling why this treatment approach has been largely overlooked," they added.

Prof David Nutt, who was sacked as the UK government's drugs adviser, has previously called for the laws around illegal drugs to be relaxed to enable more research. He said: "Curing alcohol dependency requires huge changes in the way you see yourself. That's what LSD does. Overall there is a big effect, show me another treatment with results as good; we've missed a trick here. This is probably as good as anything we've got for treating alcoholism."

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UK could become 'smuggling hub' for herbal high khat


The UK could become a hub for smuggling the herbal stimulant khat, European police and politicians have warned.

The Netherlands is the latest country to outlaw the sale of the plant, which is now banned in sixteen EU member states and Norway. Khat is freely sold in the UK and observers say the UK's isolated stance could make it the main base for Europe's khat trade.

The British government has commissioned a new review of khat use. Until announcing its ban in April, the Netherlands was similar in its stance to the UK where the East African plant is legally imported, sold and consumed.

In 2005 the UK Home Office commissioned a report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) which concluded that "the evidence of harm resulting from khat use is not sufficient to recommend its control."

In the UK, the drug is mainly consumed by people of Somali and Yemeni origin and the ACMD report concluded there was "no evidence of its spread to the general population."

Eleni Palazidou, a psychiatrist who has worked with the Somali community in east London, believes regular use of the plant can have damaging effects.

"For me it is a drug - no two ways about it. Every patient that I have seen who chews khat, I have seen them worsening and it is impossible to get their condition under control. What khat does to the brain is similar to amphetamines. I think heavy, regular use is dangerous. I have no doubt that khat has a major adverse effect on people's mental health and does cause psychological problems."

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