WHATS NEW? - DECEMBER 2013

Ketamine 'should be upgraded to Class B'

Getting drunk without the hangover or health risks – scientist seeks investment for 'alcohol substitute' drug

Legal cannabis market 'would be worth £1.25bn a year to government'

Middle-aged 'have worst drink and drug problems'

Man died after overdosing on caffeine mints

LSD substitute NBOMe should be class-A, advisers say

Legal highs found on shelves in petrol stations

Warehouse Project drugs death club in testing pilot



Ketamine 'should be upgraded to
Class B'


The drug ketamine should be upgraded from a Class C drug to Class B, government advisers have recommended.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said new evidence had shown frequent ketamine use could cause "severe and disabling" bladder damage.

Under the new classification, illegal possession of ketamine could lead to a five-year jail sentence.

Ketamine is an anaesthetic used for operations on humans and animals that has become a popular recreational drug. Home Office figures released in the summer showed that in the past year about 120,000 people aged 16-59 in England and Wales took ketamine, which is best known by the street names K, Special K and Vitamin K.

Home Secretary Theresa May asked the Council to review the evidence on ketamine last year amid increased concern about its popularity and potential harm the drug can cause.

It has gathered new evidence suggesting some people are taking large amounts of ketamine every day, risking severe damage to their bladders. In the most serious cases users have had to undergo surgery to have their bladders removed. The council said the decision to reclassify ketamine was not unanimous, but was backed by a majority of its members.

The advisory group's chairman, Prof Les Iversen, said he was not sure if the home secretary would take their advice and reclassify the drug, saying: "I've learnt that you give advice and it's not always taken."

Prof David Nutt, a former government adviser, said that if rules on the legal use of ketamine were changed and it had to be kept under lock and key, vets would not be able to use the drug in the field and animals "will suffer".

He said there was no evidence the drug was being taken from clinical stores, "so there is absolutely no need for this change".

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Getting drunk without the hangover or health risks – scientist seeks investment for 'alcohol substitute' drug


Former Government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt says his team are on the brink of a 'serious revolution in health' – but he needs help getting round the powerful drinks industry.

Scientists are developing a drug which mimics all the positive effects of being drunk without any of the health risks, addiction – or hangovers.

The "serious revolution in health" is being pioneered by the former Government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, and has been described as doing for alcohol what the e-cigarette has done for tobacco use.

It targets neurotransmitters in the brain directly, giving the taker feelings of pleasure and disinhibition that are in some cases "indistinguishable" from the effects of drinking. Yet because it acts directly, it can also be immediately blocked by taking an antidote – with "drinkers" potentially able to then drive or return to work straight away.

Prof Nutt is one of the country's leading neuropsychopharmacologists, but he and his team at Imperial College London have hit a stumbling block – perhaps unsurprisingly, no one in the drinks industry is willing to fund the drug's development.

Speaking to the Dragon's Den presenter Evan Davis on the BBC's Today programme, Prof Nutt appealed for investors to come forward and support his ground-breaking research.

One of the biggest benefits to Prof Nutt's alcohol substitute would be to remove addiction as a drinking problem. The scientist said 10 per cent of drinkers become addicted, and that addicts account for most of the one and a half million people killed by alcohol every year.

The Professor said that the drug would be taken in the form of a range of cocktails, and added: "I've done the prototype experiments myself many years ago, where I've been inebriated and then it's been reversed by the antagonist.

"That's what really gave us the idea. There's no question that you can produce a whole range of effects like alcohol by manipulating the brain."

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Legal cannabis market 'would be worth £1.25bn a year to government'


Legalising and taxing cannabis could be worth as much as £1.25bn a year to the government, a study suggests.

It estimates that reduced enforcement costs, such as police, court and prison time and community sentences, could save £300m or more alone, with the remaining three-quarters of the net benefit come from tax revenue.

The paper, co-authored by Stephen Pudney, professor of economics at the University of Essex, balances revenue against potential costs, such as regulatory costs and increased health promotion initiatives.

Pudney said the report was not a definitive attempt to put a price on the cannabis market, but tried to set out what factors needed to be considered if such a policy were to be introduced.

Commissioned by the Beckley Foundation, a thinktank which calls for scientifically-based drug policy reform, the report states: "It is likely that consumption in overall volume terms will rise significantly as a consequence of the switch to legal status and the lower price that results."

Amanda Feilding, director of the Beckley Foundation, which campaigns for scientifically based reform of drugs policy and commissioned the report said: "In these times of economic crisis, it is essential to examine the possibilities of more cost-effective drug policy. Our present policies based on prohibition have proved to be a failure at every level. Users are not protected, it puts one of the biggest industries in the world in the hands of criminal cartels, it criminalises millions of users, casting a shadow over their future, and it creates violence and instability, particularly in producer and transit countries."

Professor David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit at Imperial College, London, and former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said the report provided strong evidence "that the costs of the current punitive approaches to cannabis control are massively disproportionate to the harms of the drug, and shows that more sensible approaches would provide significant financial benefits to the UK as well as reducing social exclusion and injustice".

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Middle-aged 'have worst drink and
drug problems'


People in their 40s have the highest rates of hospital admissions for drug and alcohol abuse, a review says.

The analysis by Dr Foster found that out of more than 500,000 people admitted in the past three years in England, 120,000 were in their 40s.

The research group said it suggested a heavy drinking and drug-taking culture was catching up with the age group. The greatest problems were being seen among the poorest, Dr Foster said. Those from the least wealthy backgrounds were four times more likely than the wealthiest to end up in hospital.

Overall, one in 10 emergency admissions is related to drug and alcohol abuse, costing the NHS £600m a year to treat related conditions, such as liver problems.But admissions peak in the 40-to-49 age group. Nearly one in five admissions is for substance abuse, according to the findings which will be published in Dr Foster's annual hospital guide on Monday.

Roger Taylor, co-founder of Dr Foster, said the figures suggested there was a particular issue among people born in the 1960s.

"The bulk of the problem is in this age group. It seems they are the ones that have used drinks and drugs more than previous generations and it is now catching up with them in middle age."

Problems were also high among people in their 30s - they were responsible for nearly 70,000 admissions between 2010-11 and 2012-13.

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Man died after overdosing on
caffeine mints


A man died from an enormous caffeine overdose after snacking on high-energy mints - each of which is as powerful as a can of Red Bull.

John Jackson, 40, ate Hero Instant Energy Mints, unaware they could kill him. Each mint contains 80mg of caffeine, equivalent to a can of Red Bull, but are sold alongside normal mints. Coroner Robin Balmain recorded a verdict of accidental death but said he intends to write to the Department of Health highlighting the dangers of energy sweets.

He said at the hearing: "It seems to me to be something the authorities need to know about. It is up to them to take any action. This is potentially a dangerous situation. I am as certain as I can be that Mr Jackson did not know he was exposing himself to danger."

Dr Dragana Cvijan, a pathologist, told  the court that 79 milligrammes of caffeine has been known to cause death and that a post mortem revealed Mr Jackson had 155 milligrammes in his system when he died. Mr Jackson was a heavy drinker and had cirrhosis of the liver which would have limited his liver's ability to process toxins but it was the caffeine overdose that killed him, the pathologis said.

She told the hearing: "To my surprise the immediate cause of death was not cirrhosis, but through caffeine overdose. The post mortem showed other drug traces, but not enough for the final outcome. I am sure this is the first time in my experience we have come across what was literally a caffeine overdose. It was confirmed by experts in this field. The amount found was really excessive and entirely in keeping with death due to excess caffeine in the blood. If the liver was not functioning properly that would contribute to the final outcome."

Mr Jackson, a former painter and decorator, bought a £4 tin of 12 sweets from his local shop. He was found dead in his flat by his former partner in Darlaston, near Birmingham.

Rebecca Court, his stepdaughter, called for the product to be banned, after the coroner criticised its manufacturer. She said: "On the box it said one tablet equals one can of energy drink. It's unbelievable. They're classed in the same place as Polos and Extra Strong Mints.  I'm scared to drink coffee now."

Birkenhead-based Hero Energy said that it highlighted the risk with prominent warnings on packaging and shelves. In a statement, directors Paul Hayes and Steve Hones said they "fully understand" the dangers and risks of caffeine and that the packs advise no more than five be consumed in 24 hours. 

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LSD substitute NBOMe should be class-A, advisers say


Two party drugs subject to temporary bans should be made permanently illegal, government advisers have said.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended the hallucinogenic NBOMe should be made a class-A substance, while the ecstasy-like BenzoFury should become a class-B.

Both the previously legal highs were banned for a year in June.The government said it would "respond in due course", while campaigners questioned the effectiveness of a ban.

NBOMe, also known as N-Bomb, is a powerful hallucinogen which causes euphoria but can also lead users to feel nauseous and panicky. It is a club drug taken in powder or blotter form and is described as an alternative to LSD. If NBOMe is reclassified as a class-A drug, dealers could face up to life in prison, while possession would be punishable by a jail sentence of seven years.

The ACMD said both substances had been "linked to a series of hospital admissions and a small number of deaths". "People should be under no illusion, these substances marketed as so-called 'legal highs' can cause serious damage to your health," said ACMD chairman Professor Les Iversen.

"People using these substances are experimenting on themselves, leaving them at risk of overdose and without knowing what the long-term effects could be." The advisory group said the drugs appeared to have arrived "via a well-established link" to producers in China.

But charity DrugScope said a ban on its own would not be the answer.

"The pace of change on the drug scene is such that we cannot rely on the Misuse of Drugs Act and enforcement alone to comprehensively tackle the issue of legal highs," communications director Harry Shapiro said.

Mr Baker told Parliament in October that in some cases "so-called legal highs are more dangerous" than those currently banned.

The UK has the largest market for psychoactive substances in the European Union, according to a recent United Nations report.

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Legal highs found on shelves in
petrol stations


Petrol stations, takeaways and newsagents across Northern England are stocking 'legal highs' like "peanuts in a pub", as drug sales spread from 'head shops' to the high street, a report from a major drugs charity claims.

DrugScope says it has found that legal highs such as cannabinoids, stimulant powders including mephedrone, and other psychoactive substances are becoming increasingly available over counters.

Newcastle, North Tyneside, Barnsley, Huddersfield, York, Wakefield, Hull and Middlesbrough have been named as places harbouring the majority of legal high outlets across England, Scotland and Wales. The report shows that while 'head shops' have traditionally been go-to outlets for buying legal highs such as mephedrone, young people are buying the drugs from a range of new high street stores from petrol stations to takeaways, pet shops, tattoo parlours and sex shops.

In Newcastle alone 20 people admitted to having recently  purchased legal highs from a petrol station or takeaway, out of a total 116 people surveyed, while 45 had bought them in 'head shops'. The majority of respondents in the area were aged between 16 and 17.

Rachel  Hope, drug strategy co-ordinator at Newcastle City Council, told DrugScope's publication Druglink that Newcastle already has several 'head shops' in the city selling legal highs, but that "now we are seeing other outlets selling them".

"There is a petrol station just outside the city centre that has synthetic cannabinoids on display behind the counter on a cardboard display rack - like peanuts in a pub," she added.

The information gathered by DrugScope outlines findings from 25 drug agencies across England, Scotland and Wales. One agency in North Tyneside suggests that the ordinary, high-street style opening hours of 'head shops' has altered the way young people are taking legal highs to resemble patterns associated with heroin users, while the way that the drugs are bought and sold is attracting a new set of drug users.

Clockwork Orange and Exodus Damnation are some of the mysteriously-named synthetic cannabinoids popular with younger teenagers who are still at school, while the trend for mephedrone-type drugs is more prevalent among university-age users and older teens.

The latest report into drug misuse in England and Wales acknowledged the rising use in "emerging legal highs" by including research on two of the psychoactive substances for the first time. It showed that between 2012 and 2013, a total of 6.1% of 16-24 year olds had taken the substance nitrous oxide, while 1.1% had taken the substance known as salvia. e.

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Warehouse Project drugs death club in testing pilot


A nightclub where a man collapsed and later died after taking drugs is to pilot a new home Office drug abuse prevention scheme.

The Warehouse Project will test suspected illegal substances seized on the premises in a laboratory set up within a trailer. Warnings will then be sent out via social media about what they contain.

Nick Bonnie, 30, of Stroud, Gloucestershire, died after taking a drug, thought to be ecstasy.Greater Manchester Police are investigating whether a "bad batch of drugs" caused Mr Bonnie's death and left fifteen others needing hospital treatment over the weekend.

A 25-year-old man was arrested after security staff at the venue suspected him of dealing drugs. He was later taken to hospital after swallowing what was thought to be "a quantity of drugs". Sacha Lord, from The Warehouse Project, said: "For the first time ever in club history in the UK, the Homer Office will fund a trailer.

"Any drugs confiscated are going to be put through a machine, which in seconds evaluates what is the makeup of that particular confiscation. We can then send out messages via social media during the event. This isn't something that's just happening at the Warehouse Project, this is a national issue. We need to educate people about what's going on, as there's some nasty stuff out there."

Sam Kandel, also of The Warehouse Project, said their thoughts remained Mr Bonnie's family and friends.

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