WHATS NEW? - May 2017

Addaction Survey Shows 66% of young People Have Used NPS

Early signs show legal high ban is pushing sales from the high street to street dealers

Oxford University to launch study on medical benefits of marijuana

Alcohol flips brain into hungry mode

Substance Misuse Recovery Charity To Pilot New Fingerprint Drug Screening Device

Radical ketamine therapy could treat alcohol addiction

Fatal heroin overdoses to rise again, Welsh charity warns

Fake valium 'cheaper than chips', warns drug expert

BBC's documentary looks at how drugs from the dark web arrive at your door

Addaction Survey Shows 66% of young People Have Used NPS

Sixty-six percent of young people surveyed had tried new psychoactive substances (NPS, formerly known as 'legal highs') at least once, according to new research. Those surveyed also reported significant adverse effects, such as delusions, hallucinations, panic and anxiety.

The Addaction study surveyed 1,604 young people aged under-25 in England, 1,604 in online and written responses, with a further 20 interviewed by telephone.

The findings also show: The survey responses provide strong recommendations for treatment services, indicating that established interventions are seen as effective but more needs to be done to reach NPS users:

Karen Tyrell, Executive Director of External Affairs, said: "While we've made great strides in reducing young people's substance use, this new research shows the significant issues that NPS present. Frontline young people's services have been creative in adapting to meet these emerging needs even in a time of tight budgetary pressures. It's vital that those changes are informed by what we hear from people who have used NPS.

More than that, our work in the charity sector has to be matched by a government commitment to ensuring that evidence-based education and resilience programmes are available to all secondary school pupils in the UK. We know that the earlier we can intervene, the better the results and the safer our children will be."

To read the full report click:

Back to Top

Early signs show legal high ban is pushing sales from the high street to street dealers

In the first ten months after a new law banned the sale and production of psychoactive substances in Britain, over 31 shops have been shut down and four people convicted. But there are early indications that the law could actually be increasing the street market for synthetic cannabinoids – commonly known as "spice" – but at higher costs.

The main goal of the Psychoactive Substances Act, introduced at the end of May 2016, was to shut down shops and websites trading in psychoactive substances – formerly referred to as "legal highs". The new law makes it an offence to produce, import or supply any psychoactive substance if it is likely to be used for its psychoactive effects, regardless of its potential for harm. Possession of a psychoactive substance is not an offence.

But although the police may be stopping sales on the high street, the prevalence of synthetic cannabinoids – commonly known as "spice" – shows no sign of decreasing.

A BBC study conducted in Manchester, found that synthetic cannabinoids were by far the most commonly used psychoactive substances in the city. This was particularly the case among the homeless. As noted by one of those we interviewed for the study, synthetic cannabinoid use was "really rife" in the homeless community at the time the new law came into force, with an estimated 80 to 95% of the homeless in the city dependent synthetic cannabinoid users.

The research found that the undetectable nature of synthetic cannabinoids (both in public spaces and in mandatory drug tests), their potency (when compared to skunk cannabis) and low cost – £10 for a 1.5g packet that could make up to 20 joints – made them particularly appealing for an economically disadvantaged group such as the homeless. These substances are potentially highly addictive, and many of those interviewed had replaced problematic use of other substances – typically heroin and crack cocaine – with just synthetic cannabinoids.

Regular users reported increased tolerance that led to many dependent synthetic cannabinoid users spending around £50 a day on their habit prior to the new law being introduced. So it was unsurprising that dependent users of synthetic cannabinoids were resorting to theft, begging and prostitution to fund their habit.

Back to Top

Oxford University to launch study on medical benefits of marijuana

Researchers at Oxford University are to undertake a £10 million study on the medical benefits of marijuana in treating pain, cancer and inflammatory diseases.

It follows calls from some MPs for a law to allow medical use of cannabis, with polls suggesting 58 per cent of people would back such a move.

In recent years, studies have increasingly supported the medical value of cannabis in treating such conditions as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and arthritis, and for dealing with nerve pain.

The study, entitled the Cannabis Research Plan, is to be a partnership between Oxford University and venture capital company Kingsley Capital Partners, who are investing £10 million to create a global centre of excellence in cannabinoid research.

Prof Ahmed Ahmed of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology said existing studies were beginning to produce exciting findings which could result in new treatments. "This field holds great promise for developing novel therapeutic opportunities for cancer patients," he said.

The study has received celebrity backing from actor Sir Patrick Stewart, who uses marijuana to treat the symptoms of his ortho-arthritis. He said: "Two years ago, in Los Angeles I was examined by a doctor and given a note which gave me legal permission to purchase, from a registered outlet, cannabis-based products, which I was advised might help the ortho-arthritis in both my hands."

Regular use of an ointment and chewy bar had allowed him to sleep at night, while spraying his hands during the day had brought back mobility, he said, enabling him to make fists.

"As a result of this experience, I enthusiastically support the Oxford University cannabis research plan," he said.

Back to Top

Alcohol flips brain into hungry mode

Alcohol switches the brain into starvation mode, increasing hunger and appetite, scientists have discovered. In tests on mice, alcohol activated the brain signals that tell the body to eat more food.

The UK researchers, who report their findings in the journal Nature Communications, believe the same is probably true in humans. It would explain why many people say they eat more when they have had a few drinks.

Rather than loss of restraint, it is a neuronal response, the Francis Crick Institute team says. The mice were given generous doses of alcohol for three days - a dose being equivalent to around 18 units or a bottle-and-a-half of wine for a person.

The alcohol caused increased activity in neurons called AGRP. These are the neurons that are fired when the body experiences starvation. The mice ate more than normal too. When the researchers repeated the experiment but blocked the neurons with a drug, the mice did not eat as much which, the researchers say, suggests that AGRP neurons are responsible for the alcohol-induced eating.

Alcohol itself contains lots of calories. A large glass of wine, for example, can contain as many as a doughnut. The study authors, Denis Burdakov and colleagues, say understanding how alcohol changes the body and our behaviour could help with managing obesity. Around two-thirds of adults in the UK are overweight or obese.

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, from Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said people should be made aware of the impact alcohol can have on how much they eat and what they eat, along with the associated health risks.

"Alcohol is responsible for over 60 illnesses and conditions on its own, and drinkers place themselves at even greater risk when their drinking is combined with over-eating: especially because when people drink they are more likely to make less healthy food choices. Alcohol and obesity cause 90% of liver deaths and alcohol is twice as toxic to the liver in very obese patients."

Back to Top

Substance Misuse Recovery Charity To Pilot New Fingerprint Drug Screening Device

Change, Grow, Live (CGL) is to pilot the world's first portable fingerprint-based drug screening system as part of its support and rehabilitation initiatives for service users and families affected by drug misuse.

The non-invasive drug screening system from Intelligent Fingerprinting is easy to use, and will enable CGL to determine in minutes if a client has recently used any of the four drugs in the test – amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine and opiates. The Intelligent Fingerprinting solution detects drug use by analysing chemicals, known as metabolites, contained in the minute traces of sweat found in a fingerprint sample. In comparison with traditional testing procedures involving saliva or urine, fingerprint sample collection takes only a few seconds and is dignified and hygienic, making it particularly convenient for organisations such as CGL as there is no need for specialist collection facilities or biohazardous waste disposal.

CGL conducts regular drug tests as part of its ongoing rehabilitation activities, however the cost and complexity associated with traditional collection methods has been a barrier to widespread adoption. The initial Intelligent Fingerprinting system trial is taking place at a CGL clinic in East Anglia where early user engagement has been very positive and the volume of tests has been high.

According to CGL's Medical Director Dr Prun Bijral:

"We are a social care and health charity, and an important part of our work involves providing our clients with the support needed to help maintain recovery and reduce the possibility of a relapse. Having visibility of the client's progress and whether or not they have used drugs recently is critical in determining how we tailor our programme to support each individual."

"The Intelligent Fingerprinting system is an interesting proposition for our therapeutic environment, as testing doesn't have to be carried out in a clinical setting," continued Dr Bijral. "Overall we think that the system will make it much easier to set up screening sessions, collect samples, administer tests and get results. This flexibility means we can operate from within a broad range of venues – such as community centre clinics – and provide drug rehabilitation services close to the people who need our support."

A video explaining how the new fingerprint testing device works can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNnqlrUdMG8.

Back to Top

Radical ketamine therapy could treat alcohol addiction

Scientists believe that a radical treatment involving the tranquilliser ketamine could help overcome alcohol addiction by "erasing" drink-related memories.

Psychologists based at University College London and Exeter University are testing whether a one-off dose of the drug could help hazardous drinkers who are trying to reduce their alcohol intake. Alcohol addiction is notoriously difficult to treat, and there are few effective therapies available.

Using a recreational drug to treat addiction may sound counterintuitive, but the researchers say there is a growing body of research suggesting that ketamine can be used to disrupt harmful patterns of behaviour. Ravi Das, one of the lead researchers, said: "There is evidence that it could be useful as a treatment for alcoholism."

Crucially, ketamine can disrupt the formation of memories, and scientists believe that this property could be harnessed to over-write the memories that drive addiction and harmful patterns of behaviour.

"Memories that you form can be hijacked by drugs in some people," said Das. "If you were an alcoholic you might have a strong memory of being in a certain place and wanting to drink. Those memories get continuously triggered by things in the environment that you can't avoid."

There is increasing evidence, however, that memories are less stable than once assumed and may be open to manipulation.

Each time our brain accesses a memory, the neural connections that encode it are temporarily destabilised, meaning that our recollection can be slightly altered before it goes back into storage. This is one reason why, in everyday life, people can recall wildly different versions of the same events.

In the clinic, scientists believe this short period of instability, represents a window of opportunity. Ketamine blocks a brain receptor called NMDA, which is required for the formation of memories. So the logic is that giving someone the drug just as a memory has been destabilised could help weaken the memory, or even erase it.

In the UCL trial, the scientists will intentionally trigger alcohol-related memories by placing a glass of beer in front of the participants, who are all heavy drinkers. They will then disrupt the memory, by surprising the participant (the team is not disclosing the exact details as this could bias the results).

Participants will then be given either a ketamine infusion, with a concentration equivalent to a high recreational dose, or a placebo. The team will follow up the people for a year and monitor whether their drinking has changed and by how much.

In total the scientists are aiming to include 90 people in the trial and more than 50 have already taken part. It involves people who drink harmful quantities of alcohol, but excludes anyone who meets the clinical criteria for alcoholism. The participants were drinking at least 40 units a week for men (equivalent to four bottles of strong wine) and 28 units for women, and drinking on at least four days.

To find out more about the trial, including information on getting involved, visit the website http://psychology.exeter.ac.uk/kare/.

Back to Top

Fatal heroin overdoses to rise again, Welsh charity warns

Fatal heroin overdoses will rise throughout 2017 because of the strength of the drug and the number of users unknown to the services, a charity has warned.

Drugaid Cymru said all agencies involved have to "get to grips" with the problem. It follows latest figures showing a 50% rise in all drug-related deaths in 2015 after five years of falls. The Welsh Government said its priority was to see a fall again and would consider options to tackle the issue.

Ifor Glyn, regional director of Drugaid Cymru, which covers mid and south Wales, also said it had to be a priority. "It's a massive issue for us as a provider and the Welsh Government," he said. "Deaths are likely to go up as there is a lot more heroin around, the purity of heroin has been stronger and there's a lot more people who are not known to the services. We weren't able to engage with them. It's something that agencies like ourselves and across Wales have got to get to grips with."

Mr Glyn suggested a way forward could be to get users to act as informers. He also made a renewed call to introduce "fix rooms" for users to take their drugs under medical supervision.

Back to Top

Fake valium 'cheaper than chips', warns drug expert

Fake valium tablets are now so freely available across Scotland they have become "cheaper than chips", the drugs charity Addaction has warned.

The tablets, bought on the street, have been linked to the deaths of six people in the Toryglen area of Glasgow in the past nine months. In some cases the pills contained etizolam or phenazepam, as a substitute for diazepam.

Andrew Horne, from Addaction, said deaths occurred on a weekly basis in all parts of Scotland. Mr Horne said the problem of fake valium was not a new one - but the huge quantity of such drugs circulating on the black market had led to rock bottom prices.

He told BBC Scotland: "It's absolutely everywhere. Addaction runs services from Oban to Eyemouth and you can be sure that you're seeing fake Valium. To say what is fake valium is as cheap as chips would be a misnomer in that it's cheaper than chips. It's selling for pennies across the country."

The fake valium pills are often coloured with blue food dye to make them look like the genuine valium pills, leaving users with blue lips. Sold on the street, there is no regulation over what they contain. Substitute chemicals are often highly dangerous, especially if combined with other drugs.

Mr Horne said fake valium often bore no relation to the genuine tablets which are part of the benzodiazepine family of drugs.

"I know that in one of the residential units here in the city when they test people coming in for residential detox, saying they're using valium, there's no trace of benzodiazepams at all in their blood system," he said.

He said many of those who bought fake valium were also using other opioid drugs such as heroin and methodone, a potentially lethal combination. He said: "It's a game of Russian roulette really. If you are going to take a tablet, you don't know what it is. If you are going to use, be very careful. Be very, very careful. 'Cut and try' is a phrase that you might want to use. Don't think just because you've got what looks like five blue valium, don't think for a second that they are five blue valium.

Back to Top

BBC's documentary looks at how drugs from the dark web arrive at your door

A BBC documentary called "Is your Postman Delivering Drugs?" has highlighted to explosion in the use of the 'dark web' to access illegal drugs.

In 2016 it was fond that drug sales on the dark web had tripled since 2013, while the Global Drug Survey suggested that one in five respondents had bought drugs from the dark web.

These findings would mean that a number of postal workers in the UK have handled drugs on their routes, without knowing it.

"I've definitely handled suspect post, but once we have it in our mail bag we have to deliver it," a postal worker in London told BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat as they investigated how dark web drugs find their way to their destinations for a new documentary.

Newsbeat reporters ordered MDMA, cannabis and former legal high Spice through the dark web – a system of websites found through the browser Tor that hide IP addresses – and said deliveries took around a week to arrive.

The Home Office told Newsbeat they were committed to spending £1.9 billion "on cyber security over the next five years", but postal workers say they're powerless if they think a package they're carrying contains drugs.

"You tell the managers and all they say is you need to deliver it," a man who wished to remain anonymous said about flagging suspect packages. Another said they'd been a postal worker for 14 years and never seen a drugs dog.

As of last year cannabis still remained as the most popular drug bought online, but a third of GDS respondents admitted to trying a drug they'd never tried before through the dark web.

"You're always worried that an increase in repertoire increases the likelihood that someone comes across something that might be harmful," Kings College and GDS' Dr Adam Winstock told Newsbeat.

A Royal Mail spokesman said: "Where Royal Mail has any suspicion that illegal items are being sent through our system, we work closely with the police and other authorities including the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to assist their investigations and to prevent such activities from happening."

To view the documentary, click here:


Back to Top

Whats New?