A DANGEROUS but legal drug originally developed for worming cattle is being peddled instead of Ecstasy to Edinburgh clubbers.
Police have seized more than 4,000 of the BZP tablets in the Lothians in just three months – but not a single Ecstasy pill.
The "legal high" has flooded the market as it is more profitable and less risky for dealers.
But doctors have warned of a series of dangerous side-effects – including seizures, psychosis and respiratory failure – especially when mixed with alcohol, Ecstasy or amphetamines.
It has also been linked to at least one death in England when a coroner warned of its potentially "horrific consequences". Daniel Backhouse, 22, died after mixing BZP with MDMA, a powdered form of ecstasy.
BZP has already been banned in several countries and is due to be outlawed in the UK by the end of the year.
Police today said many clubbers were being sold BZP as Ecstasy and were completely unaware of what they were taking.
Detective Sergeant Charlie Selcraig, from the force's drugs squad, said: "We've not recovered any Ecstasy for the last six months. It's increasingly hard to get hold of nowadays. Instead, we're seizing BZP.
"BZP is legal, for the moment, which takes away a lot of the risks for those selling it. Ecstasy manufacturers are also moving to BZP because it reduces their risk and it's a less lengthy process to produce and costs less. They put an Ecstasy logo on the tablet."
A Home Office spokeswoman said the BZP ban was expected by the end of the year, making it a Class C drug.
Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said he "welcomed" the move.
He added: "We made these recommendations as it is important to highlight that these are in fact dangerous drugs."
John Arthur, manager of the Edinburgh-based Crew 2000 drug support agency, said "seasoned" Ecstasy users could tell the difference between the drug and BZP, with the latter more like a "big jolt of caffeine" which allowed users to drink more by acting as a stimulant.
Crew 2000 has been contacted by BZP users after suffering vomiting from the unexpected rush from the stimulant, while others have reported paranoia after taking it.
But Mr Arthur said banning the drug might actually make the situation more dangerous.
"Great care should be taken when considering such a move as we have witnessed young people being pushed into the arms of drug dealers by withdrawing relatively harmless compounds such as BZP."
The seizures of BZP come as Lothian and Borders Police revealed that drugs worth nearly £750,000 had been seized between April and June. Police chiefs believe they may well surpass last year's drug seizure total of £2 million in 2009-10.
But officers admit that the amount of drugs coming into the force area is on the increase to meet rising demand.
A 'HUGE CONCERN FOR SOCIETY'
THE Home Office has unveiled plans to ban BZP – or benzylpiperazine – by the end of the year, after highlighting the dangerous side-effects of its use.
In May, a coroner in Sheffield called for BZP to be outlawed after the death last year of Daniel Backhouse, 22, a mortgage broker, who took it along with MDMA powder.
Coroner David Urpeth warned that combining the drugs had "horrific consequences" — and said BZP should be a "huge concern for society" after Mr Backhouse died from heart failure.
Users report BZP giving them a rush of energy and increased heart-rate, but it is also linked to vomiting, anxiety attacks, mood swings, seizures, psychosis, renal toxicity and respiratory failure. First trialled in the 1950s as a worming treatment for cattle, but never widely used as it caused fits in some animals, it is already banned for sale in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and other parts of Europe.
By ALAN McEWEN
September 9, 2009