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Mephedrone, ‘‘Bubble’’ and unidentified white powders: the contested identities of synthetic

Mephedrone, ‘‘Bubble’’ and unidentified white powders: the contested identities of synthetic

  1. YIPMAN
    Fiona Measham, Karenza Moore and Jeanette Østergaard

    DOI 10.1108/17459261111186467 | VOL. 11 NO. 3 2011, pp. 137-146, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1745-9265 | DRUGS AND ALCOHOL TODAY

    Abstract

    Purpose – In this fourth paper in a series on emergent drug trends in the UK (2006 ketamine, 2009 MDMA powder/crystal, 2010 mephedrone), the authors consider how the pharmacological landscape has changed since substituted cathinones (including mephedrone) were controlled in April 2010 and in particular assess the prevalence of mephedrone in the general night time economy (NTE) and its relationship to the use of established illegal drugs.

    Design/methodology/approach – Surveys were conducted with a convenience sample of 207
    adults stopped at random in four town and city centres on Friday nights in Lancashire in November 2010.

    Findings – Of the adults surveyed, one in ten reported having taken mephedrone within the past year and one in 20 within the past month. Those who used mephedrone were also significantly more likely to report using ecstasy pills, cocaine and amphetamines. Regarding the next generation of ‘‘legal highs’’, no clear substitute for mephedrone had emerged; instead, there was uncertainty, confusion and a degree of disinterest. In this vacuum, ‘‘Bubble’’ has emerged and evolved as a generic term in the north west of England to refer to any unidentified white powders which are synthetic stimulants.

    Social implications – Despite an emotional investment by advocates and opponents alike in
    mephedrone being an ecstasy-type substitute, research now points towards more amphetamine-type characteristics at a time when national prevalence of amphetamines is at an historic low. The emergence of unidentified white powders sold as ‘‘Bubble’’ in the North West of England is a graphic illustration of the unknown content, effect and risk of current (by contrast with previous) ‘‘legal highs’’, and the resultant challenges for health service providers and criminal justice agencies. Bubble may be indicative of the enduring popularity but increasingly indiscriminate use of cheap stimulants.

    Originality/value – For this cohort of NTE customers, the paper’s analyses indicate that mephedrone
    was added to existing polydrug repertoires, rather than significantly displacing use of established illegal drugs or acting as a gateway for initiation into drug use.

    Keywords Mephedrone, Ecstasy, Legal highs, Stimulants, Night time economy, Moral panic, Drugs
    Paper type Research paper