DEADLY party drug mephedrone is becoming bigger than ecstasy in pubs and clubs across Scotland, experts warned yesterday.
Thousands of people are taking the still legal high every weekend as the Government races to outlaw it.
And police are repor ting an alarming rise in the numbers of people suffering bad reactions to the substance - a powerful stimulant.
The drug, known as Meow Meow to users, has already claimed its first victim in Scotland, civilian police worker Liz Clayton, 49.
And dealers are already stockpiling quantities of it in preparation for the coming ban.
In December, the Sunday Mail revealed how dealers in the drug were untouchable because it was still legal - despite it already having been linked to at least one death.
The drug sells for s10 a gram and is either snorted or swallowed by users.
Last month, Liz Clayton, who worked at the Scottish Police College in Tulliallan, was found dead and although tests are not complete, it is believed she had taken mephedrone in the hours leading to her death.
In Tayside alone there have been 37 cases of mephedrone poisoning in the last six months.
And last week the drug was banned in pubs and clubs in Aberdeen despite its legal status.
Addiction expert Dr John Marsden is spearheading a nationwide study on the drug.
He said: "We are seeing the beginnings of an epidemic of use. People are at increased risk because they are using more.
"Mephedrone is cheap, pure and people seem to like it.
"There are some specific problems - for example the substance is very corrosive so users report that sniffing it is very painful and can cause nosebleeds.
"So people tend to swallow it - a process called 'bombing' - and take more as a result. It is very hazardous. Unlike other substances that have been adulterated and mixed with other things, the purity is high and consistent."
Fife Chief Superintendent Alistair McKeen is leading the inquiry into the death of Liz Clayton, who is understood to have had underlying health problems.
He said: "Cocaine and ecstasy have been seen as so-called party drugs but this drug has come f rom nowhere.
"Many drug users in the dance and club scene tend to be poly-drug users -they use cocaine, speed and other substances - and mephedrone has attracted users as it is just something new."
Last month, a dance music magazine carried out a survey which showed mephedrone was the third most popular drug among their readers after ecstasy and cocaine.
Dr Brian Kidd, senior lecturer in addiction psychiatry at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, said: "From street level, with community workers and the police, we are definitely hearing about this drug a lot.
"There has been a noticeable rise in the drug among the younger generation of users."
Detective Sgt Kenny Simpson, of Strathclyde Police drugs unit, said: "The drug is now sitting alongside cocaine and ecstasy as a drug of choice for many. It is very much an issue for us and we have real concerns about its easy accessibility.
"We have received a significant number of reports on a regular basis about people experiencing adverse effects after using the drug. Taking the drug is like playing Russian roulette."
Detective Superintendent Willie MacColl,national drugs co-ordinator at the Scottish Crime and Drug EnforcementAgency (SCDEA), said: "There is evidence that it is getting into thehands of older schoolchildren and young adults.
"It is worrying to see something like this in schools. We have also noticed criminal elements cashing in and cutting it with substances like paracetamol and local anaesthetics such as lignocaine and benzocaine.
"All areas have been affected but Tayside and Fife have had a particular problem. There are chemists out there who are trying to keep one step ahead of the law."
Carole Hunter, lead pharmacist of the Glasgow Addiction Service, said: "The dangers of these products should not be underestimated.
"It is difficult for clinicians to treat cases of unknown intoxicationcaused by these products as most are synthetic chemicals that are noteasily identifiable with routine body fluid testing.
"We need to inform young people of the dangers that these products poseas it is often assumed that because the products are freely available and marketed as a legal high, that they are therefore relatively safe."
Professor Les Iversen, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said: "It is important to understand that just because a substance is legal, it doesn't mean it's safe to consume.
"Under medicines legislation most of these legal highs areillegal to sell, supply, or advertise for human consumption."
Community safety minister Fergus Ewing has written to the UK Government about the growing use of synthet ic cathinones, such as mephedrone, and their risks.
FROM THE FAR EAST TO THE STREETS
The trail of mephedrone misery starts in China where unscrupulous chemical firms have had a huge upsurge in demand from the UK.
A list of suppliers based in the Far East advertise large quantities of the drug over the internet.
Most of the firms are based in Shanghai and Beijing and describe themselves as laboratories who design chemicals for "research purposes".
And all of the laboratories we found said they would be able to import mephedrone to the United Kingdom quickly and discretely.
A Sunday Mail reporter approached Frid Chemical Co Ltd in Shanghai posing as a potential customer to discuss buying two kilos of the drug.
We made contact with Jiayun Chen and enquired about becoming a regular customer.
She told our man that it would cost s2970 to have two kilos of the drug dispatched to Scotland.
She promised: "We have a large supply in stock, ensuring the minute the order is placed we can quickly and reliably deliver it to you."
It costs around s1500 to import one kilo of the drug to Scotland from China.
Dealers then sell it for around s10 per gram - a profit of more than s8500.
And sellers are building up their supplies of the drug in a bid to stay one step ahead of any change in the law.
One source said: "They are bringing in as much as they can afford.
"They know that its legal status won't last much longer and it will be a lot harder to get into the country once it's banned."
Mephedrone has exploded since the Sunday Mail first exposed dealer Chris Dawson, of Livingston, West Lothian, in December.
Dawson was still at it last week - this time in Glasgow. He handed over a plastic bag which he said contained three grams of mephedrone, which is often branded as plant food.
Our man gave him s50, which included a s20 delivery charge.
Dawson said: "You need to be careful with this - only give your plants a wee drop at a time. I have to say that, you know what I mean."
Businessman Alan Myertall owns The Pipe Shop in Leith Walk, Edinburgh, and won Retailer of the Year at the Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists awards in 2007.
His store is known for expensive Cuban cigars and silver lighters.
But the Sunday Mail watched as the most popular item he appeared to flog was mephedrone.
Our man asked an assistant if he sold plant food and he then gave us a selection to choose from.
When asked which one was mephedrone, he handed our man a white substance which was labelled "Magic". He said: "This one's mephedrone, it's 20 quid."
We handed him the cash and left.
When we contacted Myertall to ask why his shop sold mephedrone, he said: "I don't want to talk to you."
Stephen Stewart and Derek Alexander
February 21, 2010