DRUG experts have issued an urgent warning to young people in the region in the run-up to the Christmas party season.
There is growing concern at the threat posed by the so-called legal high mephedrone, which is also known as bubble, drone and meow.
While it mimics the effects of restricted drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy, it can be legally ordered over the internet for as little as the cost of a pizza.
With continuing reports of mephedrone being used by young people in County Durham and Darlington, there are fears that people could die.
Police in North Yorkshire have reported a sharp increase of seizures of mephedrone in recent months.
A month ago, mephedrone was blamed for the death of 14-year-old Gabrielle Price, from Brighton.
At the same time, rural Teesdale, in County Durham, hit the national headlines after five young people in Cockfield were taken to hospital suffering from the effects of taking mephedrone.
In one case, a man took 36 hours to come down from his drug-induced high and then suffered serious paranoia.
Darren Archer, the manager of County Durham Drug and Alcohol Action Team, said: “Our biggest worry in the run-up to Christmas is that kids are going to drink on top of taking this drug.”
“We want kids to enjoy themselves, but above all we want them to be safe.”
Made in China to a formula that means that they are just inside the law, the drugs are often bought over the internet.
Mephedrone is already banned in Israel, Norway, Finland and Sweden, and drug experts in the UK believe that the Government will probably close the loophole next year.
Until then, young people in particular remain in danger.
Sergeant Mick Urwin, who is based in Barnard Castle, said: “We are getting intelligence that mephedrone is still being used and still being sold in Teesdale. It is not as obvious as it was, people are keeping their head down, but we know it is being widely used in Teesdale and throughout the whole of south Durham.
“It has moved from Cockfield to Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland, Newton Aycliffe and into Darlington.”
A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police said: “Mephedrone can be a very dangerous substance and we advise that it should not be touched.”
By Barry Nelson
December 10, 2009
The Northern Echo
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