MEPHEDRONE has become the party drug of choice among revellers across the UK in the last year – and South Cumbria is no exception.
The drug, which comes in white powder form and is snorted, affects the body in a similar way to cocaine and ecstasy.
It can cause anxiety, heart palpitations and convulsions.
Police say the drug is illegal to sell if advertised for human consumption.
But suppliers are selling it as plant fertiliser or bath salts.
Barrow drug squad boss, Detective Sergeant Mike Brown, said: “People seem to be favouring legal highs like mephedrone.
“They think because it’s legal, it must be safe, but I can’t stress enough that isn’t the case.”
Police do not keep figures on how much mephedrone they confiscate but DS Brown said: “It is rife in this area at the moment.”
The long-term dangers of mephedrone are still unknown, which is a cause for concern for the government, health bosses and police.
DS Brown said: “We don’t know a lot about the long-term effects of mephedrone because it’s still fairly new.
“What we do know about mephedrone is that it can cause anxiety, paranoia, over-stimulation of the heart and nervous system and, if mixed with alcohol, can cause death.”
Websites offering to deliver the substance direct to your door carry the tagline ‘not for human consumption’.
DS Brown said: “That’s the loophole in the law being used.
“It’s illegal to sell it if it’s advertised for human consumption, but it’s being sold as plant fertiliser over the internet.
“It is something that is being looked at by the government and it is high on their agenda.
“You’ve only got to look at what has happened with other ‘legal’ drugs like BZP (benzylpiperazine), which was popular.
“It was made illegal on December 23 last year.
“Unscrupulous dealers out to make a profit put anything into the drug to increase the amount of money they can make.
“With this (mephedrone) the original stuff is produced by people in a lab, but as more dealers get on the back of this, they get raw materials to make the drug with a view to making profit.
“It’s a similar situation to that with cocaine. The purity found in street cocaine used to be around 30 to 40 per cent but now it’s down to one to two per cent.
“All drugs have side effects and those side effects are different in different people.
“I don’t think we have a crisis, but it is a potentially huge problem.
“We need to know more about it.”
Billy Harvey, centre manager at Barrow’s Cumbria Alcohol and Drug and Advisory Service base, believes the government should ban mephedrone – and fast.
He said: “It (mephedrone) has been around since 2007 but it has only become prevalent in the last 12 months or so.
“People are going out on a Saturday night and having a drink and some mephedrone. It’s becoming the regular thing. It’s an epidemic.
“It’s people aged 19 to mid-20s who are taking it, mainly.
“I didn’t know how rife it was or how prevalent it was in Barrow until I started hearing more about it and seeing things on (social networking site) Facebook.
“The big problem is that it is legal.
“There are young people who would never dream of taking cocaine or ecstasy but they have this because it’s legal.
“They think it’s safe and it’s not.
“People can get addicted to the psychological effects.
“A young lad who came to see me about it said he couldn’t have a night out without it.
“It’s all over Facebook, young people talking about taking it. That’s how some parents find out about it, then they contact CADAS because they’re concerned.
“There isn’t enough research on it to know the long-term effects but the actual make up of it is only a couple of tweaks away from ecstasy.
“Mephedrone is a stimulant so it raises the heart rate, causes palpitations, sweats, anxiety, all of those.
“The government need to do something about it quickly.
“They reclassified cannabis and then changed it back again in a short period of time, why can’t they do the same with this? In Aberdeenshire, the pubs and clubs there have banned it. “There’s nothing to stop licensees banning it but they would probably struggle to police it.
“But surely club owners will notice when there’s a line of people queuing in the toilet.”
However, one man who sells mephedrone over the internet, says banning the drug is not the answer.
He told the Evening Mail: “Mephedrone can be harmful in the hands of those who don’t know what they’re doing, after all, nothing is risk-free.
“Taking large quantities of mephedrone frequently isn’t a good idea but then again neither is drinking.
“While there have been a fair few hospitalisations due to mephedrone and one or two deaths, that’s still nothing compared with the over 1,200 hospitalisations per day caused by alcohol.
“The media doesn’t devote anywhere near as much time and page space to the actual harms of things like alcohol so in this regard, the current media hype is definitely unjustified.
“I wish it were possible for people to sell these kinds of thing with usage advice, dosage information and all that, I really do. Unfortunately, it can’t be done since anyone that offers safe advice will get in trouble.
“If the government were really for reducing harm, this kind of advice would be mandatory, along with strict regulation like that for alcohol and tobacco.”
March 1, 2010
North-West Evening Mail