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Are we losing the 'legal highs' arms race?

Posted in: Drugs by on 7 March 2013
Tagged with: Drugs

I was reading the latest Department of Health alert on the dangers of the 2C group of drugs (see link) yesterday;

DoH Alert on 2C type drugs

and as a clinician working with substance users i was struck with the following thoughts;

1) Oh no! Not another substance. I wonder what the real world effects of use of this substance will be for our patients?

2) Are we driving people to use more dangerous substances with our race to make new drugs illegal?

I'd learnt how to councel and treat patients with ketamine use, as the M-CAT group of drugs ('bubble'/'miaow etc) became prominent amongst our younger patients and learnt appopriate advice and responses to these drugs. The clampdown on the supply of this group of drugs seems merely to have spun of suppliers into an increasingly rapid cycle of bringing new 'stimulant white powders' to market (as Dr Adam Winstock of the Global Drug Survey refers to them - click on the link and take the survey if you haven't already).

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs & Drugs Addiction estimates that 49 new substances came out in 2011. This is where the press such as the Daily Mail (not my usual source of clinical information I should add!) got the figures of 'one new drug per week' along with reports of 300% increases in the number of websites offering such 'legal highs'.

I fear we are in a kind of 'arms race' (the end point of which is usually 'mutually assured destruction') making each new substance illegal. Users are driven towards increasingly more hazardous substances to take the place of the original 'stimulant white powder' they were using.

Illegality is restricting supply successfully as each substance is banned, but not changing the demand amongst end consumers for these type of substances (see Russell Brand giving evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee for a very frank opinion as to what the legal status of a drug has on whether a substance user takes the drug or not - close to zero).

The drugs filling the void left by M-Cat drugs seem already to be more harmful, and services such as ours at Delphi are rushing to keep up with the information, treatment and advice that these new drugs require. Could we move public opinion from the natural reaction of further bans towards a moratorium on making further substances illegal? This might then prevent the inevitable push of users of these types of drugs towards more harmful substances?

 I'd be keen to hear your views?

Who's Tweeting about this:

#2C Newer legal high type drugs dangers highlighted by DoH detailed. Are we losing the war on 'legal highs'? http://t.co/ZSifnygbcc by @DelphiMedical on 07/03/2013 10:55:30
@HughAsher @guardian meanwhile potential users will have moved on to the next molecule along! http://t.co/jNY6FxOKQw by @DelphiMedical on 04/06/2013 19:55:09