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Mephedrone News Archive

So What WAS in the News?

Substance abuse, whether legal or illegal, is so widespread in modern society that there are many stories about it in the news everyday.

This page contains stories about mephedrone and other synthetics which were, originally, placed on the Substance Abuse News page but which can no longer be called 'News'.

In addition to items specifically about this substance there are many items related to substance use and misuse in general. These general items can be found in the 'All Substances News Archive'.

Please go to the 'Phantastica' page to access stories related to specific substances.

House of Commons Debate on Khat Reveals Extent of Ignorance of MPs
12th January 2012

A House of Commons Adjournment Debate reveals how little MPs know about the market for Khat.

Read more in today's blog

BCS Report, ‘Drug Misuse Declared’ Published
28th July 2011

The British Crime Survey (BCS) publishes an annual report on drug use based on a self-reporting survey. Some of its findings are discussed in the blog. A key finding, this year, is that mephedrone's legal status did not encourage new users to try a psychoactive substance for the first time.

Literature Review on Khat Published
15th July 

The UK Home Office has published a literature review entitled ‘Khat: Social harms and legislation’ written by David M. Anderson and Neil C. M. Carrier of Oxford University. You can read a discussion of this on my blog.

Mephedrone Ban Makes No Difference
14th February 2011

The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ICSD) has indicated that it will shortly publish results of a survey suggesting that the criminalisation of mephedrone has made little or no difference to its availability.

Though around half of respondents say they are less likely to use mephedrone since its banning, a similar proportion say they are more likely to use cocaine or ecstasy instead.

One effect of the ban that everyone seems to agree on is that the price of mephedrone has increased so, once again, the government has increased the profits of those selling substances with unknown effects.

Coroner Warns Against Mephedrone but Ignores Alcohol
14th February 2011

The coroner conducting the inquest into the suicide of two young men in Northumberland in July 2010 has issued a warning that mephedrone has been linked to many suicides after it was confirmed that both of the men had, at some point, used mephedrone. The coroner's comment is based on a report from a private forensic science lab. This shows that mephedrone was first detected in toxicology studies in March 2010 and between than and June 2010 a total of 16 post-mortem tests had identified mephedrone. It is said that in 3 cases mephedrone was the only drug detected. In fact, two of those cases say 'no data available' rather than nothing found and in the third prescribed medication was known to be present. In any event, none of these cases were suicides and the six suicides which were included all found ethanol to be present though the extent of intoxication is not given.

Certainly, in the cases that are the subject of this inquest, both men were found to have blood alcohol levels above those for defining drink driving. Yet the coroner made no mention of the harm alcohol can cause preferring to start another media hare running about mephedrone even though he is reported to have said 'there was nothing specific to say the drug caused both men - who left notes to their families and friends - to kill themselves'.

Clinical Effects of Mephedrone
Added 8th September 2010

The Emergency Medicine Journal has published (online - click to open new window) a paper concerning reports to the UK's National Poisons Information Service (NPIS), in the twelve months from March 2009 to February 2010, about toxicity resulting from mephedrone use.

The NPIS is a service provided for medical professionals to access, and provide, information on poisons. It operates a database, where new case information can be uploaded in addition to accessing existing data, and a telephone advice service. It should be noted that it is not a compulsory system i.e. doctors are under no obligation to contact the NPIS.

The paper found that there were 2901 uses of the database related to cathinone type substances and 188 telephone enquiries. Of these 1664 TOXBASE enquiries and 157 telephone calls were specific to mephedrone. The number of contacts month by month showed a steady increase over the period. The authors looked at the reported clinical features in 131 of the 157 calls. These 131 were the cases where mephedrone had been used alone or with alcohol but no other substance was involved. Symptoms included agitation, tachycardia, confusion, nausea, palpitations, headache and convulsions. In one case, the subject died but post mortem examinations concluded that mephedrone was not responsible.

The authors use their data to conclude that 'Toxicity associated with recreational mephedrone use is increasingly common in the UK'. They do not, however, offer any evidence to support that claim. The month by month contact data are not provided so the trend cannot be seen. They do acknowledge that contacts are more likely to occur with novel substances than with those which are well understood by the doctors dealing with them. Nonetheless, they include the number of reports related to cocaine and MDMA (ecstasy) for the same period, which could lead people to assume that this reflects the levels of use.

There is a further problem in that there is no way to separate the effects of alcohol from those of mephedrone since the 131 cases studied in detail include an unknown number where an unknown amount of alcohol was also consumed.

The danger of a paper of this sort is that it will be used to 'prove' that mephedrone is harmful even though the authors acknowledge that 'Most mephedrone exposures are not associated with severe toxicity'. If anything, the paper confirms how little is understood about the effects of mephedrone especially when compared to the well-understood effects of cocaine and MDMA, in their pure forms.

Dead Teenagers had not Taken Mephedrone

On 28th May 2010, BBC news reported that toxicology tests on two Lincolnshire teenagers whose deaths had been said to be due to mephedrone had shown that neither boy had used the substance. Neither the Humberside police nor the North East Lincolnshire Coroners Court were willing to discuss the case but, it is understood, that further tests are being undertaken to see if anything, other than alcohol, was involved.

It was the deaths of these two youths which led to the Labour government rushing through legislation to make mephedrone, and other cathinone analogues, Class B substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

At the time, there was huge press interest in the deaths with detailed and reports and many op-ed pieces opining on the effects of mephedrone. It will be interesting to see how much attention is given to the toxicology results.

Meanwhile, a coroner's court in Brighton has heard how a 46-year old man, who died after injecting large quantities of mephedrone, had a serious pre-existing heart condition which was a factor in his death.

Mephedrone - Unforeseen Consequences

The UK's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is a group of (unpaid) independent scientific experts whose role is to consider and summarise the scientific evidence about substances of abuse and advise the government on the action to be taken.

The ACMD is a statutory body, that is its composition, activities and responsibilities are set down in law.

When two teenage boys died after, allegedly, taking mephedrone, there were immediate calls for it to be brought within the Misuse of Drugs Act. The Home Office was faced with a problem, however. The ACMD was already engaged in a project to look at mephedrone and other 'legal highs' but its work was not due to be completed before the summer and had suffered delays following the sacking of the former chairman and the subsequent resignation of a number of members.

Happily, for the government, the new chairman has a less well-developed understanding of what independent scientific advice means and he colluded with the Home Secretary to bring forward the ACMD's recommendations to the 29th March. Apparently, only one obstacle remained; the ACMD was legally inquorate after the resignations. The simple answer to this was to announce three new appointments on the same day and to claim that the appointees had attended ACMD meetings as guests and were 'up to speed' on the issues.

This blatant manipulation of the rules in order to take action based on media hysteria, not science, might have succeeded had not Dr Polly Taylor resigned from the ACMD at the weekend. Dr Taylor is a vet, the only one on the ACMD, and having a vet on the committee is a statutory obligation.

Mr Alan Johnson, the UK Home Secretary, did not let the law stand in the way of his announcement and, as expected, announced that mephedrone, together with all cathinone derivatives, would be classified as Class B substances. The changes in the law are to be rushed through parliament before its dissolution for the general election.

What's interesting about this affair is the widespread reaction to the government blatantly ignoring its own laws and moving to ban these substances when there has not, yet, been a single instance where mephedrone has been shown to be the principal cause of death.

Many commentators are questioning the fundamental process of banning substances as a way of reducing drug use and concluding that passing a new market over to criminals is not a sensible way to proceed.

Though not everyone has made this point, a number of people have pointed out that the attraction of mephedrone is based on its purity when compared with the highly diluted/contaminated products which pass for 'cocaine' and ecstasy.

Far from reassuring the public that it knows how to deal with substance use/abuse, the government seems to have brought many new voices into the debate about the important differences between the harms caused by substances and the harms caused by their prohibition.

A word on mephedrone
I don't know if mephedrone is harmful and, if so, what are the circumstances in which harm can arise. But then, nor does anyone else because mephedrone has not been studied in enough detail to know these things.

Some people are claiming that mephedrone's popularity is based on its legality. Everything I've read from users themselves indicates that people have turned to mephedrone because they no longer get the results they are looking for from 'cocaine' and 'ecstasy' sold on the street.

The UK parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee, in a recent report, noted that some seizures of 'cocaine' contained less that 5% of the alkaloid, cocaine. In Hampshire, police were forced to release two young men, without charge, after analysis showed that the 1,000 or so 'ecstasy' pills they were taking to a town centre contained no MDMA, the chemical (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) which is supposed to be the sole constituent of ecstasy.

The New Scientist has an excellent article about mephedrone including its effects and some of the myths being spread about it. Click here to open the article in a new window. 

UK Government Orders New Khat Study

In 2006, the UK government announced that, based on recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), it would not make khat an illegal substance.

Now, the government has ordered a new study to be made into the 'social harms' arising from khat use. The Home Office is to have the results of this study by the end of 2009 and the ACMD will be asked to produce another assessment.

Dr Axel Klein, one of the experts who contributed to the 2005 study, says the situation regarding khat has not changed and he believes that the government has decided to prohibit khat and expects the ACMD, already cowed by the rejection of its recommendation that cannabis need not be reclassified, to provide it with a report which will justify this action.