A NEW highly addictive drug used in Britain by clubbers and gay men is becoming a global problem, according to a United Nations report published today.
The huge increase in use of methamphetamine - crystal meth - is being helped by lax restrictions on the chemicals used to manufacture it. People who take it can experience a ten-hour high and increased sexual arousal.
Professor Hamid Ghodse, president of a United Nations drug control agency, said: If I want to pick on one major drug problem pandemic today, it is methamphetamine.
It has not yet affected that much of Western European countries and the UK but, as we know, as drug misuse occurs in North America, sooner or later it gets here.
Methamphetamine is todays problem drug. We think that it is extremely worrying.
We are trying to encourage governments to focus on the precursor chemicals used in the drugs manufacture, so that we can try to prevent any wider abuse of methamphetamine.
The drug is known by various names, including ice, meth, tina and Nazi crank. It was first developed in 1919 and used by troops to keep awake. It was rumoured that Hitler injected it twice a day, hence the name Nazi crank.
Introducing the annual report of the UNs International Narcotics Control Board, Professor Ghodse said that crystal meth was now regarded as the No 1 drug problem in North America. He said that the extent of its use in Britain was hidden by the fact that seizures and arrests were included in figures for amphetamines.
Statistics for the amount of crystal meth seized by police and Customs are not collected separately. The Home Office has been alerted to the emerging trend. In November Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, ordered an early warning system to be put in place to determine whether the use of crystal meth was spreading and that drug deaths should be monitored to see whether they were linked with it.
Customs will send all seizures of odourless white powders to forensic labs for analysis and new mental patients with drug problems will be tested to see if they have taken crystal meth.
In November the Governments Advisory Council on Drugs Misuse advised against reclassifying it from Class B to Class A because it could have the unintended consequence of engendering interest among potential users.
The UN report also highlights figures showing that Britons are the highest users of cocaine and big users of cannabis. A report published last November found that 6.8 per cent of adults admitted that they had tried cocaine, compared with 4.9 per cent of Spaniards, the second-largest proportion.
Deaths from cocaine abuse in Britain have reached the highest level since the Government started keeping records. The number of fatalities linked to cocaine abuse almost doubled over four years, to 147 in 2004.
Britain is top of the European league table for cocaine abuse and is fast approaching levels seen in America, the EUs drug agency said last year.
Todays UN report also highlights that drug cartels and suppliers are increasingly using the postal system to smuggle narcotics into Britain.
There has also been a growth in illegal internet suppliers in South-East Asian countries such as Thailand, which sell and send by post restricted medicines, including the sedative diazepam.
Richard Ford for The Times (UK)
1st March 2006
(Original article no longer available)