“By the end, I was shifting around 250 grams of Mephedrone a week and I was making about £1000 profit at the height of it,” said Jack.
Jack is an Owens Park resident who dealt Mephedrone earlier this year. “I started dealing before university. I heard of it before it got hyped up. I came to Tower and the sales grew exponentially.”
Mephedrone is a synthetic version of the herbal amphetamine cathinone, found naturally in the leaves of the khat plant. It began being sold as a legal high through Chinese websites in bulk. 33 per cent of clubbers use it, according to a Mixmag magazine survey of over 2000 people. The same survey suggested that it has become the UK’s fourth most popular non-prescription drug in 2009, behind marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy.
Jack said that he had tried dealing illegal drugs but that the risk wasn’t worth taking. “You could stick a label saying ‘Not For Human Consumption’ on your packet and that covers your arse. There are specific clauses in the law that you can’t sell it for medical means or consumption. But you can with an explicit warning.
“I stopped before it became illegal for some family issues. My mum got a bit concerned about where this money was coming from. I was paying for holidays,” said Jack.
“It was getting quite hot by the end. Police were coming to raid rooms of people I was supplying. I was just thinking it was only a matter of time before I get busted. It’s going to come round to me sooner or later,” Jack added.
The Psychonaut Research Project, based in King’s College London, searches the Internet from new drugs and new drug trends. Its research concluded that the drug first became available in 2007. The project found over 200,000 online shops offering Mephedrone, with over 400 different brands on offer.
Dealers in Britain spend £2,500 to import a kilogram of the substance from China. They then sell on the product for between £10 and £15, said a Druglink report early this year. This would equate to a £7,500 profit. A later report suggested the figure for importing a kilogram might be closer to £4,000.
Bonnie, a first year student and Owens Park resident, sits on her bed recovering from the previous night on Mephedrone. She looks tired and smokes cigarettes next with her boyfriend, Josh. “I feel like shit today,” says Bonnie. “I got to sleep at twelve this afternoon and slept ‘til five. My whole mouth is chewed up. You wake up feeling weak and miserable. You can’t be bothered to do anything or leave your room.”
“Any psychoactive substance carries with it a set of risks,” says Adam Winstock, from the National Addiction Centre at King’s College London, who carried out the Mixmag survey.
The drug has become the centre of a media outrage after being linked with the deaths of a number of users, including two North Lincolnshire teenagers and a fourteen year old girl.
Reports on Mephedrone in national newspapers ranged from the reasonable and well informed to the fearful and erroneous. Links to death through ‘Meow Meow’ became daily occurrences. 26 deaths were reported within a two-week period. The Sun reported that a teenager tried to “rip off his testicles” and launched a campaign to have it banned. The story was later found to be false.
The death of a fourteen-year-old girl was later found by the coroner to be “broncho-pneumonia which resulted from a streptococcal A infection.”
A Private Eye investigation also showed that the name ‘Meow-Meow’ itself was a journalistic invention and almost no-one referred to the drug by that name when buying or selling before it appeared in newspapers.
Only two cases have had Mephedrone named as a contributing factor to deaths, according to a report produced by John Corkery of the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, based in St George’s, University of London.
But this ‘legal high’ is no longer legal. The Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) report on Mephedrone cited the popularity with youth and affordability as a major motivation for the ban. It became a class B drug earlier this month, despite protests and seven resignations from members of the ACMD board, who are the key advisors to the Government on such matters.
The resignations followed the dismissal of Professor David Nutt, the former chairman of the ACMD, by Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
Professor David Nutt was sacked following a research paper that said alcohol was more harmful than cannabis, LSD and ecstasy: “Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth.“
He also added that, in terms of statistics, horse riding was more dangerous than ecstasy.
Tabloid newspapers did not let this comment rest easily, and Labour MP Jacqui Smith demanded Professor Nutt apologise to the families of the victims of drug-related deaths.
Police action since the ban has been swift. Greater Manchester Police increased their presence in Fallowfield, and posters from GMP referred to “several raids” carried out in the area, including a raid in Owens Park halls of residence shortly before the Easter holidays. No arrested were made.
The trend has been the same nationwide. A 44-year old man from Stockton, County Durham, was arrested after an estimated £70,000 worth of Mephedrone was discovered in his home earlier this month. Police also stopped a large shipment of an estimate £500,000 worth of the drug being smuggled through Glasgow Airport.
As plans were being finalised to upgrade Mephedrone to a class B drug, a new ‘legal high’ began to be advertises. “New products for April – MDAI,” declared a popular Mephedrone merchant’s website. NRG-1 is also being marketed as a replacement.
“When restrictions are placed on the supply of drugs and demand remains high, you get substance displacement,” said Danny Kushlick of Transform, a UK think tank opposed to drug prohibition.
NRG-1 and MDAI are both being offered for approximately double the price of Mephedrone per gram and described as “research chemicals.” One website said that they were “proud to introduce a new compound to our product range.”
The Sun has already run a front page headline, “NRG-1 is 25p a hit and will kill many more than meow.”
I spoke to Jack, the former Owens Park dealer, about NRG-1: “Some people were saying it was crap and just a bit of a buzz. Some people were saying it was like a mad speed trip. You have to be really careful with it and I wouldn’t trust it,” said Jack.
Ralph, another student in Owens Park tower, took NRG-1 but was not aware of its potency. “I couldn’t sleep until the next day. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. I didn’t realise that it was much stronger.”
“The guy who normally sells me Meph said it was the new drug, the new legal high. It’s double the price [of Mephadrone]”
“I’d say it messes with your head a lot more. It made me really paranoid,” said Ralph.
A British supplier based in Belgium was quoted by Sky News as saying NRG-1 was being marketed as a Mephedrone replacement and could cost as little as 25p a hit.
The ACMD is already considering banning both drugs, as well as a number of other available legal highs.
by Adam Farnell
Student Direct Mancunion
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The rise and fall of Mephedrone: and the new legal highs taking its place