EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU member states have unanimously backed a Europe-wide ban on mephedrone, described by Brussels as a "dangerous, ecstasy-like drug," despite a recent report from the bloc's own drugs agency that said there is limited evidence of any danger.
In a near record for the EU's normally slow legislative process, after just 44 days on Friday (3 December), the bloc's 27 justice ministers backed a commission proposal made on 20 October of this year to criminalise the manufacture and marketing of the drug.
Mephedrone, commonly known by the street names 'meow meow' and 'plant food,' is already illegal in 15 EU states. The ban will now be extended to the remaining 12 countries in the union.
"It is good to see that EU governments are prepared to take swift action to ban this dangerous drug," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "The EU has shown today that we can act quickly to stop this kind of drug from taking more lives."
In a statement, the commission repeated a claim made first in October that the drug has been "linked to at least 37 deaths in the UK and Ireland alone."
"Young people should not be fooled. These drugs are harmful," said the commissioner.
The commission statement also claimed that a scientific risk assessment carried out by the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) "showed that mephedrone can cause acute health problems and lead to dependency."
However, as EUobserver reported in October, the EMCDDA document said that no direct causal link can be made between the drug and any deaths and actually warned against prohibition.
Of the 37, there are only two reported fatalities in which meow meow appears to be the sole cause of death - one in Sweden and one in the United Kingdom. As for the rest: "In some of these cases it is likely that other drugs and/or other medical conditions or trauma may have contributed to or been responsible for death."
"The inquests into the deaths are pending for the majority of these cases therefore it is not possible at this time to determine the contribution of mephedrone," the report goes on.
The commission did not want to be drawn on how many deaths in Europe there were where alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine "appear to be the sole cause of death."
However, according to the commission's own data, harmful alcohol consumption is estimated to be responsible for approximately 195,000 deaths a year in the EU, while smoking kills 1.2 million in Europe annually.
The report also warned that any risk from toxicity is related to the dose of meow meow used. But the scientists said that there is insufficient information available to determine a "dose threshold" - or, in other words, how much is too much.
Scientists do know however a lethal dose of coffee: A person weighing 70 kilograms would be able to kill himself with roughly 293 Starbucks tall lattes, if the person did not die of water intoxication first.
The study said that such a move could forge a link between meow meow and organised crime where none currently exists: "Control measures could create an illegal market in mephedrone with the associated risk of criminal activity."
According to the document, adverse side effects reported by users include teeth grinding, sweating, headaches, nausea, agitation, palpitations, chest pain, paranoia, nasal irritation and sexual arousal. Severe side effects however such as seizures or abnormal heart rhythms are "rare."
"The studies available on mephedrone are few, largely preliminary and focused on user self-reports. To date no epidemiological data on prevalence has been published. The majority of studies originate from the United Kingdom and evidence from other member states is scarce."
The "most detailed studies" have come from telephone surveys of UK clubbers.
The report warns against jumping to conclusions about the safety of the drug: "Taken as a whole, the scientific evidence base available for drawing conclusions is limited and this proviso should be borne in mind when interpreting the findings of the risk assessment exercise."
Speaking to EUobserver at the time of the commission proposal, the EMCDDA's senior scientific co-ordinator, Paul Griffiths, said that much of the fear of the drug had been stirred up by irresponsible press reporting.
"It must be said that some of the reporting in the media has not been borne out by the toxicology," he said.
EU justice spokesman Matthew Newman told EUobserver: "Although the conclusive scientific evidence concerning the overall risks of mephedrone is still limited at this stage, a prudent approach is appropriate."
December 03, 2010
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EU bans 'meow meow' drug