South West Wales

Swansea heroin fight 'may have masked meow meow boom'

Wind Street
Image caption Wind Street in Swansea is the city's main drinking quarter

The emergence of mephedrone on Swansea streets may have been overlooked while drug workers tackled the city's heroin problem, it is claimed.

Eddie Isles, chairman of Swansea Substance Misuse Action Team (Smat), says mephedrone appears to be a bigger problem than in other cities.

"We may, unintentionally, have not got on to this emerging drug as quickly as we would have liked," he said.

Mephedrone, also known as MCAT and meow meow, was made illegal in 2010.

"Heroin has historically been a significant problem," he said.

"We are cautiously optimistic that we are over the wave.

"But we were so preoccupied with tackling this we may, unintentionally, have not got on to this emerging drug as quickly as we would have liked.

"That's my personal view."

Despite its reclassification as a Class B drug two years ago, mephedrone is more than twice as prevalent in Wales as it was 12 months ago according to a police regional intelligence unit for Wales report seen by BBC Wales.

It has been described as a psycho-active drug which can leave people losing inhibition around violence.

The price of it around south Wales is on average between £10-20 for a deal (one gram) and is readily available.

By comparison, cocaine costs between £30-£50 per gram and heroin £40-£50 per gram.

Heroin users are also known to take mephedrone to help deal with the side effects of the Class A drug.

Image caption Mephedrone is said to give users a similar high to amphetamines or cocaine

"Mephedrone has become attractive to young people and has been seen in the past as a legal high," Mr Isles added.

"There can be the belief that if it was legal it can't do you any harm because if it did do any harm it would be illegal."

Swansea's Wind Street has been picked out as the second top spot in Wales behind Llanelli for mephedrone use, but heroin is still the city's main problem.

Ifor Glyn from Swansea Drugs Project agrees the emergence of mephedrone has been a surprise, particularly during the tackling of heroin.

"I would say to some degree that's true," he said, while adding that heroin use was still a problem.

"In the last nine months we started to hear about mephedrone being around, and in the last six months it's just exploded. I've never seen anything like it."

Mr Glyn said the cost, availability and the fact there were already a lot of people used to taking drugs in Swansea had not helped.

He believed there were fewer people taking heroin, although he added: "But I wouldn't say anything is under control.

"But mephedrone is definitely one of the biggest worries we've got at the moment because it's still a relatively unknown drug and we don't know what the long-term effects will be."

Mr Isles is also concerned about the availability of mephedrone. He cited one example where he had been told by a young person that it was offered outside schools for as little as 10p.

"I've got no reason to distrust what that person is saying to me but I have no evidence to push that further forward."

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