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Will the mephedrone ban cause more drug deaths?

Mark Easton | 17:51 UK time, Tuesday, 23 November 2010

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

Mephedrone

 

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".

Drug harms

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".

Comments

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  • 1. At 6:47pm on 23 Nov 2010, Briantist wrote:

    Ah, the law of unintended consequences at work...

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  • 2. At 7:48pm on 23 Nov 2010, Forlornehope wrote:

    Insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result.

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  • 3. At 8:33pm on 23 Nov 2010, Stodoc wrote:

    Of course there is the little matter that mephedrone was never legal for human use...

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  • 4. At 9:10pm on 23 Nov 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    if i drop a stone in a bucket of water is there a splash and a ripple...??

    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".

    Might play out... will and is playing out, with the police cuts coming I can see a very bright future for the drug markets in the UK especially the powders as they are so easy to cut and modify.

    you really would think that after all this time that people would start to learn that making these things hard to get hold of just makes them impure and dangerous.
    I see they have banned the sale of cannabis seeds without licence.... funny people the ministers.. or is this part of the new import export policy? as I can buy seeds anywhere afropips looks nice. what was the point..???(unless they have realised the dutch one seed one plant NWO for cannabis and now are forcing growers back to good old cuttings and natural plants)

    I have to say this is getting funnier by the statement the process and outcome. when will they hear I told you so????



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  • 5. At 9:24pm on 23 Nov 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    http://healthland.time.com/2010/11/23/portugals-drug-experience-new-study-confirms-decriminalization-was-a-success/

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  • 6. At 08:36am on 24 Nov 2010, Peter Reynolds wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 09:57am on 24 Nov 2010, Arrrgh wrote:

    It all goes to prove, clever people are just as stupid as the rest of us.

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  • 8. At 10:01am on 24 Nov 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    Cocaine users switching to mephedrone? Could well be true - sounds like more than just this one source suggesting it is/was happening.

    Very wise to say mephedrone 'might or might not' be less lethal.

    Cocaine has documented lethality because it has been around for a long while. Loads of medical examiners in places like miami writing articles in journals about what they have seen and studies they've done.

    When something new comes out it is a simple statement of fact that there is no evidence it causes harm - there is no evidence (yet). This is not just illicit drugs: prescribed drugs that have been out a long time usually have big long lists of acknowledged side effects, new ones have shorter lists (for now).

    If large numbers of the druggies continue to use it, then you could come back in a few years and see what has emerged.

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  • 9. At 10:22am on 24 Nov 2010, kaybraes wrote:

    If nutters want to commit suicide who are we to dictate how they do it, legalise the means and let them get on with it.

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  • 10. At 2:42pm on 24 Nov 2010, Peter Reynolds wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 11. At 3:25pm on 24 Nov 2010, bigsammyb wrote:

    Rather than users going back to cocaine or ecstasy recent trends suggest people will simply start using another 'legal' substance that will probably be more harmful than mefadrone ever was.

    It is easy to molecularly change a substance so it has a similar effect but becomes a different substance and so is legal under the law.

    Its a pandoras box.

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  • 12. At 5:05pm on 24 Nov 2010, Peter Reynolds wrote:

    It seems I can say nothing on here about the lies and misinformation promoted and enforced by the Home Office. Even the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have criticised the government for basing drugs policy on opinion rather than evidence. This wicked, subversion of the truth needs to be exposed. I would have expected the BBC to allow the truth to be spoken.

    Present government policies are directly responsible for death, ruined lives, crime, misery and, in the case of medicinal cannabis, the denial of relief to those in pain and suffering. This is a monstrous oppression of hundreds of thousands of British citizens yet the drugs minister will not engage in debate at all.

    Is the BBC now so tightly constrained that it will not allow people to speak against blatant distortion of the truth?

    The Home Office lies repeatedly, denies science and pursues policies which it knows full well are unjust, self-defeating and create massive levels of harm.

    Can I say that or not?

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  • 13. At 11:35pm on 24 Nov 2010, Ewan Hoyle wrote:

    There was also an article in Druglink a couple of issues back that mentioned users were delaying seeking help from drug services since mephedrone has been made illegal and so are presenting with more serious problems with the drug when they eventually do seek help. Another strong (though anecdotal) argument that prohibition increases harm.

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  • 14. At 09:00am on 26 Nov 2010, Have your say Rejected wrote:

    Mephadrone will soon be packed full of dodgy chemicals and mixtures to pack it out. Dealers will stick what ever they can in it to make more profits. Letting criminal self regulate their black market drug supplies will only cause more deaths. It is shameful that consecutive governments have done nothing about the issue of illicit drugs, and would rather criminals regulate black market drugs supplies, than themselves. It is sickening that Governments shirk their public health responsibility, and are not held to account for failing society. Legalise, regulate and tax.

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  • 15. At 09:08am on 26 Nov 2010, bigsammyb wrote:

    What concerns me is the lack of knowledge amongst government ministers. They are completely out of touch on the issue of drugs, they do not even know the latest scientific evidence, or they ignore it.

    I work in a school and it only takes a brief glance at the 'talk to frank' leaflets to see the government clearly employs imbeciles to write them. For instance i read this about cannabis in a leaflet recently:-

    "Today people most often smoke 'skunk' which is an artificially strengthened form of cannabis. It is more popular and common today than sensimellia"

    Now first off 'skunk' is not artificially strengethened. It is just a strain of cannabis usually around 30% sativa and 70% indica. It is not particularly strong and is actually pretty rare to see today. Most strains people smoke originate in amsterdam ie: white widow, amnesia etc.

    Secondly sensimellia is NOT a type of cannabis. It is merely a female cannabis plant that has not been fertilised by a male so there are no seeds in its buds and all its energy has gone in to the production of THC rather than seeds. ALL good cannabis is sensimellia.

    This is not just propoganda it is factually incorrect. 'skunk' seems to have become a catch all term for politicians when they mean storng weed. But any clued up child sitting in a class being fed this 'information' is going to know its a loads of rubbish and consequently ignore it.

    Top tip for government ministers, a very popular strain in the UK right now is called:-

    UK Cheese

    It is a LOT stronger than skunk and is a pure indica. And is unusual in that it comes from the UK, the genuine article can only be grown from cuttings and it smeels like pungent cheese.

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  • 16. At 12:27pm on 26 Nov 2010, Aneeta Trikk wrote:

    Perhaps the most obvious question to ask a politician is "what is the intention of making a substance illegal?".

    Is legislation to stop people using it?
    Is legislation to stop its free circulation?
    Is legislation to stop people self harming through its use?
    Is legislation to control its use?
    Is legislation short sighted windowdressing?

    Mephedrone's movement from "new and unrated" to "less new and illegal" is a very obvious chance for politicians to explore the intention and effect of legislation in 3D high definition glory.

    I just wish the medical mandarins would all resign and allow real people to live out their lives as they wish and at least do so with as much information as can be freely given about all that we eat, drink and introduce to our bodies for survival and recreational purposes. How many people are killed by unavoidable stress every year or is it easier to mask the real truth by blaming these same deaths on life style choices including the use of drugs, legal or illegal?

    Whatever happened to that invaluable piece of research from decades ago showing that people with less income died much younger than those with more income? Obviously money is one drug everyone should have.

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  • 17. At 10:44pm on 26 Nov 2010, watriler wrote:

    There are lies, damn lies, statistics and the government's drugs policy.

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  • 18. At 1:23pm on 29 Nov 2010, Synchronium wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 19. At 09:38am on 01 Dec 2010, Shaunie Babes wrote:

    I well as banning mephedrone, I see the Government passed a law forcing users to take dangerous amounts of cocaine. Oh, they didn't ? In that case these people must of chosen to kill themselves of their own free will. So who cares ? The Government no more forces people to take drugs than it forces arsonists to commit arson.

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  • 20. At 08:54am on 02 Dec 2010, LCJ wrote:

    For gods sake lets legalise and regulate the drugs with a known history regarding their health damage potential.
    That wouldl greatly reduce the social damage potential as many senior drug enforcement police officers have stated
    Price (tax) them according to potential for damage and get the criminals and dodgy chemicals reduced in number

    Adding another (so far harm free) substance to the illegal list adds profits to criminals and will then increase all the crime that drug users casue

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  • 21. At 10:22am on 02 Dec 2010, bigsammyb wrote:

    "19. At 09:38am on 01 Dec 2010, Shaunie Babes wrote:
    I well as banning mephedrone, I see the Government passed a law forcing users to take dangerous amounts of cocaine. Oh, they didn't ? In that case these people must of chosen to kill themselves of their own free will. So who cares ? The Government no more forces people to take drugs than it forces arsonists to commit arson."

    Why do you find it so hard to think rationally shaunie? Cause and effect. Whether you like it or not legislation has a direct impact on peoples behaviour.

    Your moral judgement of these people is irrelevant and somewhat bigoted, as ive come to expect with you.

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  • 22. At 11:25am on 02 Dec 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    LoL bigsammyb it is hard leaving the last words with a Troll...

    especialy one so uninformed and misguided.

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  • 23. At 11:37am on 02 Dec 2010, shulgin2010 wrote:

    19. At 09:38am on 01 Dec 2010, Shaunie Babes wrote:
    I well as banning mephedrone, I see the Government passed a law forcing users to take dangerous amounts of cocaine. Oh, they didn't ? In that case these people must of chosen to kill themselves of their own free will. So who cares ? The Government no more forces people to take drugs than it forces arsonists to commit arson."

    I really wish people like yourself didn't make such ignorant useless comments that really serve no purpose in this debate. What exactly are you trying to prove or disprove? There is at no point any suggestions that the government are FORCING people to take drugs, the debate is surrounding the consequences of policy that are not evidence based. THe fact that the illegality of drugs serves to increase public health pressures due to the inability to regulate such substances and access the people who are utilising them is what the problem is.
    You act as if these people are not part of society, as if they are untouchable scum who do not desver to be a part of it and be helped in normal ways, a view only reinforced by the criminalisation of these people.

    Your immaturity and lack of insight is for me the prime example of what is stopping us from moving forward as a society. Take the time to think and digest the appropriate information before you formulate an opinion...as a higher form of life you have the ability to do this where as a monkey does not, you should appreciate this skill.

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  • 24. At 2:51pm on 02 Dec 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    interesting piece http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2010/dec/01/portuguese_drug_reformers_look_b

    seems we have yet to learn by example in the UK

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  • 25. At 7:34pm on 02 Dec 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmbills/116/11116.175-179.html#j402s

    Schedule 16
    Temporary class drug orders


    Amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

    this will give you somthing to mull over Mark

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  • 26. At 5:53pm on 03 Dec 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    http://profdavidnutt.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/science-goes-awol-in-the-eu/

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