The challenge of NPS

There’s an interesting opinion piece by Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime looking at the messages for young people around new psychoactive substances.

He argues their legal status creates difficulties for making one of the traditional arguments made to young people to avoid drug use – i.e. don’t use them because they’re illegal.   Continue reading

The National Treatment Agency has an interesting paper out about club drugs which is the increasingly generic term for a range of substances that are heavily associated clubbing culture.

The drugs include ecstasy, GBH and GBL, Ketamine, Methamphetamine, and Mephedrone.

The data that the agency presents shows that the numbers of young people being treated for these substances has remained relatively stable over the last few years, but digging deeper it is apparent that there have been quite big changes in the individual drugs that have led to the need for treatment.

Talking with Dr Own Boden Jones who runs the Westminster Club Drug Clinic, and who is quoted in the NTA paper, he’s told me that the experience they’ve had is that club drug users don’t consider themselves to be the sort of drug user that could or should access traditional drug treatment clinics.

This, if true, may mean that the numbers of people in trouble with these drugs are higher than the NTA figures suggest, and that it takes them longer to access treatment.

From our point of view the paper Claire wrote for the Drug Education Forum on Legal Highs earlier this year sets out our best understanding of how to tackle these drugs in terms of education and prevention.

See here for a summary of Mentor’s views on Legal Highs.

Nearly 1 in 10 Drug Deaths in the UK are Young People

The annual report on drug deaths in the UK has been published and shows that in 2010 one in ten deaths were under 24 years of age.

As you may have seen in the media reporting of the issue there is some good news in that there has been a fall of 13% in the number of drug related deaths since 2009.

Looking at the drugs that are associated with the deaths in that year it is clear that heroin remains the most likely drug to kill with over 130 fatalities in the last year.

However, as has been reported in the media, the growth in the number of fatalities associated with novel psychoactive substances (‘legal’ highs) is going to be causing alarm.

The big rise in these deaths seems to have been as a result of mephedrone, where deaths rose from 5 in 2009 to 29 the following year.

It is worth remembering that despite broadly positive trends drug deaths remain high when compared to our European neighbours.

Students and Drugs

The Telegraph report on drug use by UK university students:

One-in-four students at British universities admitted to having taken ‘legal highs’, of whom 39 per cent said they had experimented with salvia. Salvia is one of the most powerful known hallucinogenic herbs.

The people who conducted the survey put further flesh on the bones:

Over half of university students (54%) admit to taking some form of illegal drugs since they have been at university. Unsurprisingly cannabis is the most common drug tried at uni – 77% of those who have tried an illegal drug have tried cannabis. Ecstasy / MDMA (39%), cocaine (24%), Mephedrone or meow meow (18%) and legal highs (17%) were also cited amongst students as drugs they have tried since starting university.

What they don’t say is what their methodology was for conducting their survey so we need to treat the results with some caution.  And I note that the most recent Home Office analysis of the Crime Survey for England and Wales, report that 14.6% of students said that they had taken a drug in the last year.

What the survey does reveal is that there is a misconception about the use of drugs amongst this peer group:

90% of students think that their peers have tried illegal drugs whilst at university, whilst in reality almost half of respondents (45%) have never tried any form of illegal drugs.

New “legal highs” haven’t caught on

Rough days by bayat
Rough days, a photo by bayat on Flickr.

A new piece of research carried out in South London suggests that legal highs – other than mephedrone – may be less popular than the media myth may have us believe.

Interviews with with just over 300 clubbers found:

  • 206 (66%) had previously used a ‘legal high’.
  • Mephedrone had the highest prevalence of last month use (53%) and use on the night of the survey (41%).
  • This was greater than both cocaine (45% and 17%, respectively) and MDMA/ecstasy (27% and 6%)
  • There was limited use on the fieldwork night of the non-mephedrone ‘legal highs’: including the ketamine-substitute methoxetamine or ‘mexxy’ (2%), the cannabis-substitute Spice/K2 (0.6%) and the pipradrols (0.6%).

While this is a small scale survey it is amongst a group that has frequently been ‘early adopters’ which leads Fiona Measham who conducted the research to say:

“Although there is some experimentation with ‘legal highs’, only mephedrone has become an established part of the recreational drug scene. For the majority of ‘legal highs’ that have come onto the market since mephedrone was banned, use is low or non-existent. This suggests that what we are seeing is a pattern of differentiated demand for drugs – just because drugs are for sale doesn’t necessarily mean that people are buying them.”

More here and here.