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Will the mephedrone ban cause more drug deaths?

By catseye, Nov 24, 2010 | | |
  1. catseye
    Will the mephedrone ban cause more drug deaths?

    Fascinating analysis on the Straight Statistics blog suggests that the now-banned drug mephedrone may have saved lives when it was legal.


    Professor Sheila Bird, a statistician with the Medical Research Council at Cambridge, has been trying to understand why, after steady rises, there was an unexpected but significant fall in cocaine-related deaths in the first half of 2009.

    "One possible explanation," she writes, "might be that cocaine- and ecstasy- users were switching to a less dangerous drug, mephedrone, in and before this period":

    "[T]he decision to make mephedrone illegal may have curtailed a notable decrease in deaths. And so closed off a pragmatic harm-reduction strategy - that of switching from illegal cocaine with its documented lethality to a legal high which avoided criminality and the criminals who deal drugs, and which might (or might not) have lower lethality than cocaine."

    An article in the Lancet a couple of weeks ago also looked at the mephedrone ban and concluded that "classification of mephedrone has had a limited effect on controlling its availability and use":

    "Before the introduction of the legislation, users generally obtained mephedrone via the internet. Now they buy it from street dealers, on average at double the price. We suspect that, in time, there are likely to be reductions in purity, and increases in health harms."​

    The findings echo warnings from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction [190Kb PDF] over the summer.

    Reviewing how the mephedrone ban might play out, a report said "control measures could create an illegal market in mephedrone with the increased risk of associated criminal activity, including organised crime".

    The paper accepted that prohibition could be expected to limit the availability of mephedrone but also suggested that the ban "could impact on both the quality/purity and price".

    • A health consequence that can be foreseen as a result of control measures are benefits brought about by the presumed reduction in use.
    • However, if a significant number of young users continue to use the drug, costs may be incurred by bringing them into contact with the criminal justice system.
    • New control measures would imply additional costs related to law enforcement, criminal justice, forensic analysis, testing, etc.
    • This control could lead to replacement with other (established or new) psychoactive substances which may in themselves have public health consequences.
    • It is not possible to predict whether there will be health or social consequences from any substance that might come to be used as an alternative.

    When it comes to drug prohibition, arguments are being increasingly made around the risks of unintended consequences which make matters worse.

    Mephedrone was classified as a Class B drug last April, a move with broad political support in the House of Commons. The decision to prohibit its sale and possession followed a report from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs which said mephedrone has similar effects to amphetamines and can cause temperature changes, heart palpitations and paranoia.

    Chair of the council Professor Les Iversen said at the time: "This is not a simple, harmless party drug. Just because it is legal doesn't mean it is safe."

    However, an editorial in the Lancet following the decision said the ACMD "did not have sufficient evidence to judge the harms caused by this drug class", adding that "politics has been allowed to contaminate scientific processes and the advice that underpins policy".

    Mark Easton, BBC News Online
    Tuesday, 23 November 2010


  1. Enlightenment
    I don't think anyone would deny that they didn't foresee mephedrone becoming banned. It's a drug just like coke and mdma, and taken more or less in the same way, so it's hard for me to believe that a community, anywhere in the world, wouldn't try to get this "terrible, life-ruining drug" off the market.
    That being said, I don't think anyone will disagree either that usually banning something hastily as they did with mephedrone is a smart move either. It's one thing to not understand a drug, but then taking it away from people quickly and without much information on the subject can be as or more dangerous. As this article points out, people are either going to switch back to their old habits, or maintain their new one illegally, and less safely for various reasons.
    It's just the stigma of society that makes this a problem in my opinion for the most part. The normal culture hates drugs, or refuses to accept them, while the counterculture embraces them. People are still going to do it, and as history shows prohibition of anything usually turns out to be just another hell ride for drug enforcement agencies. it's unfortunate how it all turns out, but unless something in this normal chain reaction changes, it's going to keep repeating itself.
    I don't doubt that more extreme cases of harm are going to start surfacing though, now that legit chemical suppliers are cut out, and the cut makes it's way into the drone. Such a shame, that was always the beauty of 99.8% purity!
    So what are we to do? Do we somehow try to keep people from doing drugs, and new drugs, altogether? Do we somehow convince the government and society to allow people to do as they will for safety's sake, or at least keep a few, monitored, regulated substances around? Seems sort of hopeless and ever-repeating to me
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