Brighton and Hove already has the unwanted title of drugs death capital of the UK.
So news that a growing number of children and young people have been using the so-called “legal high” mephedrone, known as miaow or meow, is disturbing for everyone.
Part of the problem is that it is cheap to buy on the internet, where it is sold as plant food, and once in the hands of the young buyers, it is potentially deadly.
Sussex Police are still waiting on the results of toxicology tests on Gabi Price, pictured above, of Coleridge Crescent, Worthing.
However, friends of the 14-year-old have said she had been taking the drug.
Gabi suffered a cardiac arrest at a party in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, and died in hospital last Saturday night.
Fatal implications As well as the obvious fatal implications, the concern among drug workers and volunteers in the city is that if young people get hooked on the buzz provided by mephedrone, they will turn to other, harder drugs.
And, of course, it is not just the drugs like mephedrone.
Ru-ok? is Brighton and Hove’s substance misuse service for young people. It is paid for through the city’s Children and Young People’s Trust and staffed by a team of health, youth and social care professionals from statutory and voluntary agencies.
The specialist service has a remit to support young people and their families with complex substance misuse concerns.
That includes young people whose drug or alcohol use is causing, or has the potential to cause, serious problems in their day-to-day lives.
The most common drug it deals with is cannabis and many of the children that come to the organisations are also having problems with alcohol.
The idea of Ru-ok is to spot the children at risk and give them the help and advice they need to stop them turning to a life of addiction, antisocial behaviour and regular appearances in court and prison.
The long-term aim is to make sure teenagers in the city do not get into a downward spiral and end up another grim statistic.
Getting drunk and smoking cannabis not only has serious health issues, it also puts teenagers, especially young girls, at risk of being attacked while on a night out.
Other related effects are the risk of teenage pregnancy or catching a sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia or HIV.
Once high on drugs or alcohol, the inhibitions come crashing down and the problems begin.
Mephedrone may seem like a harmless bit of fun but the implications are deadly and drug and alcohol workers in the city are sitting up and taking notice.
Ru-ok? manager Anna Gianfrancesco said the service had started to come across young people using miaow across the city since August.
She said workers were already offering treatment and advice since then as part of moves to try and nip the issue in the bud.
Part of the problem is that technically, it is not illegal to buy mephedrine online so it is easy for people to get hold of.
And police are powerless to act because there is no legislation they can use to make an arrest.
Advice For now, the best drugs workers can do is give advice.
She said: “The service is concerned that some young people are mistaken in thinking that because a drug is currently legal this may be safer and have no adverse health effects.
The biggest dangers with legal highs are their unknown qualities.
“The effects of taking the drug are short-lived which means users have an immediate urge for more and they can become aggressive or anxious.
Ru-ok? has also been working with other services to highlight the rise in the use of miaow and ensure that information is available for young people.”
Plans are now under way for a city-wide strategy for dealing with legal highs and get the message across about the dangers.
This can be through counselling and offering teenagers and their families the help they need to take control of their lives.
It helps and encourages children to develop and continue their education or go into training or employment so they have a different focus.
Teenagers can either refer themselves to the service or their family or friends can get in contact but most cases are highlighted by professionals like GPs and teachers.
Experts say it is better if the young person involved agrees to get the help they need but if there are significant concerns then Ru-ok? can offer support, advice and guidance on what to do.
During 2008-2009, there were 204 referrals into Ru-ok? and of these, 144 young people entered treatment and 39 were offered consultation and support.
By Siobhan Ryan
November 27, 2009