The motorbike courier arrived at my home shortly after 8pm. He could have been delivering a pizza. It was certainly just as easy as ordering a margherita. One phone call. A text message to confirm address. Then, 40 or so minutes later, a knock on the door.
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But, on this occasion, the person standing outside was not from the local takeaway. He was carrying an envelope, and inside was a sachet of white powder called Mephedrone and a fake bank note. You can use the 'bank note' to snort Mephedrone like someone would a line of cocaine. It can also be taken in tablet form like ecstasy.
Either way, it produces the same feeling of euphoria. That's the selling point, if you like, of this new party drug. Another is the price. It's dirt cheap. You - or, to be more precise, your children - can buy a gram of Mephedrone for around £7 or even less (one gram equals about five 'doses').
There is also a third benefit. Unlike cocaine or ecstasy, Mephedrone - which is known as 'meow meow' - is legal, which is why it can even be delivered directly to your front door, up until 3am every day of the week in London, with a few clicks of a computer mouse.
The downside? Side-effects include convulsions, breathing problems, nose bleeds, depression, psychosis - and, in some cases, even death.
Mephedrone, imported from laboratories in China, is believed to have first entered Britain last year. By the summer, it was sweeping through clubs and parties throughout the country.
Only now, though, are the dangers becoming apparent. Last weekend, 14-year-old Gabrielle Price died after taking a suspected drug cocktail including Mephedrone at a house party in Brighton. A friend who was there said Mephedrone was being taken by children as young as 11 who assumed it was safe because it's not illegal.
Youngsters all over Britain are now turning up in casualty after experimenting with Mephedrone. In the Durham area, five victims have been hospitalised in recent weeks. In one case, a reveller suffered horrifying self-inflicted injuries during a Mephedrone-induced 'high'.
One young woman tells today how her friend's eyes 'rolled back in her head' and she then began 'foaming' at the mouth after taking the drug at a music festival.
Mephedrone has already been banned in some European countries - including Norway and Finland, where it has been linked with a string of deaths.
The Home Office says it is also planning to make it illegal here. It is waiting for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - which is investigating Mephedrone as a 'top priority' - to report back early next year. F
or the moment, however, the people trading in Mephedrone - legal drug dealers in all but name - are beyond the law. As a police officer who has witnessed the side effects of the drug explains: 'There are no criminal offences relating to the possession or supply of Mephedrone, yet the effects are the same as Class A drugs.'
In Britain, any substance sold for 'human consumption' has to be licensed or subject to rigorous safety checks. So unscrupulous dealers market Mephedrone somewhat bizarrely as a plant fertiliser. In fact, Mephedrone (full chemical name: 4- Methylmethcathinone) is a stimulant described as 'two molecular tweaks away' from pure ecstasy.
'It is never used in any products that people would use to fertilise plants,' said a spokesman for the European Fertiliser Manufacturers' Association. In other words, you might as well give your plants cocaine or heroin as Mephedrone.
Nevertheless, words such as 'plant food' and 'plant snacks' are used in all the websites selling Mephedrone. We found at least 30 websites in a few minutes.
Buyers, they say, must be 18 or over, but anyone with an email address, an internet payment account or just a mobile phone can buy the drug. The site we purchased our supply from asked customers: 'Do you understand you are buying plant food not for human consumption?'
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But what gardening company makes home deliveries in the early hours? Our order cost £30 for two grams - plus £20 for the courier service.
The consignment came from a flat in a redbrick block near Victoria Station, where we observed a man of Middle Eastern appearance with a goatee beard, in his 30s, hand out brown envelopes and fake bank notes to callers. He was accompanied by a fair-haired man dressed in T-shirt and jeans.
The transactions took place in the hallway of the building which is situated between a travel agent and a furniture store. The only difference between what happened in the hallway and a sleazy drug deal for which the two men in question would face imprisonment is just a loophole in the law.
Mephedrone is often combined with Ketamine, a horse tranquilliser, which helps to relax you after the Mephedrone high. The street name 'meow meow' derives from the fact Ketamine is sometimes called Ket. Ket sounds like cat (as in meow meow).
The legacy of Mephedrone is now being felt in areas such as the north-east. 'The use of this drug is becoming much more prevalent,' said Inspector Kevin Tuck, who is based at Barnard Castle, County Durham. 'Parents should be on their guard particularly at this time of year [during the Christmas festivities]. They need to know it is very easily available on the internet.
'We have seen the effects it has on young people. Officers have been assaulted by those who are high on it and a number of people have collapsed in the street. One user took 36 hours to come down from his "high" and suffered from serious paranoia when he did.'
Police in the region are taking a tough stance to combat the growing problem of Mephedrone. Anyone caught in possession of suspicious substances is arrested, taken to a cell and has their DNA and fingerprints taken. Obviously, if the 'substance' turns out to be Mephedrone, there will be no charges.
But the arrest could still have serious consequences. Some employers, for example, require job applicants to declare whether they have ever been arrested. It provides some token deterrent, at least.
Mephedrone use is also widespread on the south coast, where tragic 14-year-old Gabrielle Price grew up. Gabi, as she was known, lived in Worthing, West Sussex, where she attended Davison High School, an all-girls' comprehensive. She fell ill on Saturday while at a house party in Brighton.
Paramedics treated her there before taking her to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, where she died five hours later.
Her grandfather, Adrian Price, said: 'Gabi was a lively and lovely girl whose untimely death has left enormous holes in the lives of her family and wide circle of friends.
'She was fantastic daughter and granddaughter; a shining light has been extinguished and will never be re-lit.'
A post mortem examination failed to pinpoint the cause of Gabrielle's death and toxicology reports have been ordered. But police have arrested a woman of 39, and a 17-year-old boy on suspicion of supplying drugs at the party.
Both Ketamine, which is illegal, and Mephedrone are 'massive' among Gabrielle's circle, according to one of her friends. 'It's so easy to get hold of,' said the friend. 'Easier than alcohol. It's so cheap to buy on the internet and if you buy it in large amounts you can get it for about £7 a gram.
'It's the drug of choice for young people at the moment, and they think it's safe because it's legal.'
The consequences of taking Mephedrone is revealed by a young professional whose friend took the drug at a music festival recently. 'I suddenly noticed she [Claire] had gone very quiet,' she said. 'Her face was pale and she was sweating. I put my arm around her, but she collapsed. I couldn't hold her up, so she laid down on the ground. I asked how she felt but she couldn't answer. She was totally limp. I held her face in my hands but she just couldn't talk.'
The woman managed to drag Claire to a St John's ambulance tent where she began convulsing.
'She was jack-knifing on the bed, her teeth were chattering, her eyes were rolling back into her head and foam had begun to collect in the corners of her mouth,' said her friend. 'The paramedics asked what she had taken and I told them. They thought I meant Methadone [the heroin substitute].
'They connected her to a heart monitor and inserted a saline drip before taking her to hospital. Claire was put on a ward and I sat by her bedside holding her hand. She was freezing cold and shivering and it was several hours before she could even speak. When she was able to talk, she said she felt awful - spaced out, weak, sick, and paranoid.'
Claire was lucky. She survived. Some of those who buy Mephedrone from that flat near Victoria may not be.
When we rang the buzzer yesterday a different man, with an East European accent, came to the door. He said any questions about 'business' had to be directed to the manager, Leo. But he was not there.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists say they are starting to see patients suffering from psychosis, which can include hallucinations and delusions, on mental health wards as a result of taking Mephedrone.
Mephedrone or 'meow meow' is just the latest legal drug on the scene. Before Mephedrone, it was GBL ('coma in a bottle') which is about to be made illegal. And by the time the law catches up with Mephedrone, the dealers will have made their money and moved on to the next legal 'product'.
This is the depressing reality of the seemingly unstoppable - and potentially deadly - trade in socalled 'legal highs.'
By Paul Bracchi
November 27, 2009