The Government has pledged to act swiftly once it is given expert advice about the dangers of mephedrone at the end of the month.
Use of the deadly “legal high” has become widespread in Brighton and Hove over the past six months, with children as young as 12 or 13 reported to be taking it. The drug, also known as miaow miaow or M-cat, was linked to the death of John Sterling Smith, 46, in Hove last month, and a top Sussex doctor has warned it could be as dangerous as cocaine.
On March 29, scientists from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will spell out the dangers of the drug to Home Office ministers.
Home Office minister Alan Campbell said: "Subject to this advice we will take immediate action.
"We are determined to act swiftly but it is important we consider independent expert advice to stop organised criminals exploiting loopholes by simply switching to a different but similar compound."
The announcement followed calls from Mick Brooks, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who said the drug had rapidly been gaining popularity in schools, and was being taken by children as young as nine.
Last month Paul Ransom, lead accident and emergency consultant at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, and Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, said he fears about the long-term effects of meow after seeing a huge rise in teenagers admitted after taking the drugs.
Users have suffered heart palpatations and fits, and later serious mental health problems including psychotic episodes and suicidal tendencies.
Dr Ramsom said: “This is a real concern because we don't know exactly what long term or even medium term effects it could have, because it is so new.”
Meanwhile, a drugs campaigner whose Brighton daughter died of another legal high called for new laws allowing substances to be quickly banned while their dangers are assessed.
Maryon Stewart, whose 21-year-old daughter Hester died after taking the dance drug GBL - subsequently made illegal last year by Home Secretary Alan Johnson - said the ban could save lives by giving scientists the chance to assess the dangers.
Ms Stewart said the law in this area is "totally inadequate" in protecting children and young people.
"It is a very difficult area because as soon as one thing gets banned, then there are others that come on to the market. I do not think banning is necessarily the total solution," she said.
"I have discovered in the process I have been going through in the last few months that there is in Germany and America an interim law where legal highs come on to the market, they go into a basket where they are illegal for the first year, giving toxicologists the chance to decide whether they are dangerous or not for the first year.
"Most of these legal highs at the moment seem to be paint stripper or fertiliser and they were never intended for human consumption.
"We know that there are people who sell them for human consumption for profit and the law at the moment is totally inadequate."
She added: "They (the Home Office) should not be waiting for kids to die before they take action."
Ms Stewart's daughter, a molecular medicine student, died after taking GBL, which was used by clubbers as a substitute for banned drug GHB, known as "liquid ecstasy".
Mr Johnson announced last year that GBL - gamma-butyrolactone - would be placed in class C, meaning users could be punished with a two-year jail term and dealers up to 14 years.
The Brighton and Hove coroner warned at Ms Stewart's inquest that the recreational use of drugs such as GBL was "very much a question of playing Russian roulette".
March 17, 2010
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.
Government pledges to take "swift action" over mephedrone