Killer mephedrone retains the image of a “fun” drug in Wales.
But users have been reporting more and more problems with the narcotic dubbed Meow Meow and M-Cat – one helpline has seen calls rocket by 850% in two years.
Rhiannon Kirk is temporary detective chief superintendent at Tarian, the task force to target drugs.
“It is an issue in Wales and it is still a growing issue,” she said.
The law is “trying to catch up” with chemists who create new drugs when old ones become illegal.
“We won’t police or arrest our way out of this,” DCS Kirk said.
“We are trying to give more of a message to young people saying, ‘Don’t think putting any white crystal substance in your body is safe’.
On June 25 Kiefer Jordan Frary was found hanged in Porth after taking the drug. This week the 18-year-old’s mum warned others to stay away from it.
“My heart has broken into a million pieces – it will never mend from this,” Alison Lewis said.
The teenager started behaving differently after taking mephedrone.
“Kiefer wasn’t depressed and was always smiling, which shows how lethal M-Cat is.
“He would never cause me this pain if he was in his usual state of mind. We want others to know how this drug has affected my child.”
DCS Kirk found it “worrying” M-Cat was being bought through non-traditional supply routes.
“It can be obtained through the internet and the post,” she said.
“We have had intelligence that dealers have been offering samples for free or for a pound.
“You don’t know what you are taking with it. You don’t know what else is in there, whether it has been mixed with heroin or cocaine. You have no idea what you are taking.”
Police have started to bring prosecutions for importing.
“You’re not going to arrest every dealer,” DCS Kirk said.
“This is very much a public safety message.”
Users attending focus groups have said more than half of their friends have been taking the drug. Some are injecting.
“Injecting seems to be more of an issue for older users around their 40s and on heroin,” DCS Kirk said.
“Sometimes they are using it to try and come off but it’s almost as dangerous.”
In a report last year cops warned it had maintained a “fun” image in Wales despite starting to lose it elsewhere.
“It has this glamorous reputation,” DCS Kirk said.
“It is known as the party drug and we are trying to say there is nothing glamorous about mephedrone.”
According to the report some offenders were switching to it because they thought it would not get picked up by drugs tests. And it warned more people were injecting the drug.
“The drug is taking hold within the established heroin addict population,” the document warned.
At £10-20 a gram it is a quarter of the price of heroin and a third of the price of cocaine.
Cardiff, Newport, Bridgend, Swansea and Llanelli are among the top 10 hotspots identified by police.
“In terms of arrests and figures it is still not as high as cocaine and heroin and cannabis,” DCS Kirk said.
“The worrying thing for us is the low age group of users.”
Drug help group Kaleidoscope had heard of kids using it from 15.
“The thing about it that is different is the age group,” deputy manager Rondine Molinaro said.
“There are a lot of younger people using it from 15 upward.”
In 2010 they had no mephedrone referrals. Now they have “two or three” a month.
“They have gone through the roof,” Ms Molinaro said.
It was the same story at Wales’ drug and alcohol helpline Dan 24/7. In 2010 the organisation received 40 calls from mephedrone users seeking help. This has rocketed to 170 in the first six months of this year. If that figure remains the same for the rest of the year that is an increase of 850%.
Manager Janet Roberts said: “A lot of young people started using it because it was freely available and cheap but they have suddenly found themselves addicted to it.
“They are talking about how much they are spending on it and what it is doing.
“When they are trying to stop they find out they are not in control and go through bad times trying to get off the drug.
She said it “does not seem that it becoming illegal has had a huge impact”.
Rossana Oretti, consultant psychiatrist in addictions at Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, said: “What we are finding is that some of our service users already on a methadone prescription have started to use M-Cat and we are seeing problems with existing clients.”
The medic had seen the Vale of Glamorgan and Barry emerge as centres for mephedrone use.
“All you need is a couple of users who have got into it and it can spread very quickly,” she said.
“What they are saying is that it is cheaper than speed or cocaine and it’s more accessible.”
Downsides of the drug are becoming apparent.
“We have had a lot of problems from injecting it,” Dr Oretti said.
“People have come to the needle exchange with sore arms and abscesses and have become unwell mentally and physically as well.
“Some don’t have any problems. But others say it is awful and that they are not going to touch it again,” Dr Oretti said.
“With heroin and cocaine people know what the average amounts to take are. But with mephedrone that information is not out there.
“One of the reasons there may be so many problems is because of the amounts people use. They are not small and they are using more than needed.
“And that is where they are running into problems.”
She urged users not to shoot mephedrone.
Dr Phil White is secretary of the chairman of North Wales Local Medical Committee.
He said: “As with all drugs that give you a great high you get a trough of a low, almost as if it creates a bipolar situation.
“You can ride along on the crest of a wave but as it runs down you can plummet into the depths of depression.
“There is a lot of evidence that suicides occur 24-48 hours after taking the drug.
“That is the sort of time it takes to get the drug out of the system.”
The problem was “no-one knows much about this drug.”
That is compounded by people having no idea what they are being sold.
“We have got a generation happy to pop anything down their throats without a thought,” Dr White said.
The Welsh Government were keen to cut use of M-Cat.
A spokesman said: “The dramatic rise in the use of mephedrone is concerning given the serious mental and physical harm the drug can cause both in the short and long term.”
A campaign was launched in January to highlight the dangers of M-Cat and other “new and emerging” drugs.
“The campaign was designed to reach people that don’t usually come into contact with drug services,” the spokesman said.
It was a “success” in raising awareness and encouraging calls to Dan24/7.
“We have followed up the January mephedrone campaign with a more generic summer campaign ‘Stay Bright After Dark’, which aims to publicise the dangers of taking drugs and alcohol after dark,” the spokesman said.
WalesOnline (James McCarthy reporting)
10th August 2013
Mephedrone: 'We won't police or arrest our way out this'