WHATS NEW? - August 2018

Class A drugs return in popularity to levels not seen for 10 years

“Monkey Dust” drug use 'an epidemic', emergency workers warn

Cannabis-derived medicinal products to be made available on prescription

The first recreational drug testing facility in Britain opens in Bristol

Cocaine breathalyser 'one step closer'

Rise in people seeking help over prescription pills bought online

Police ‘decriminalising cannabis’ as prosecutions fall away

Children as young as 13 addicted to cocaine

NHS to launch first internet addiction clinic

Cannabis addiction 'rising among women and over 40s'

UK among world's biggest buyers of drugs on dark web as illicit trade grows, survey finds

Class A drugs return in popularity to levels not seen for 10 years

More people have been using cocaine and ecstasy than at any point in the past decade, official statistics show.

About one in 10 people admitted to using drugs of any kind in the past year, according to the 2017 – 2018 Crime Survey. But responses also showed year-on-year rises in the numbers of people using class A stimulants, which have returned in popularity to levels not seen since 2008-09.

The Home Office said it was worried about the rise in use of class A drugs. Cocaine remained the most popular illegal stimulant. It was used by an estimated 875,000 people in the previous 12 months – the highest number in 10 years and a 15% year-on-year rise. There was a particular surge in consumption among young people, with the number of 16 to 24-year-old users up almost 22% year-on-year to an estimated 361,000.

The purity of street cocaine across Europe has hit its highest level for a decade, the EU’s drugs agency reported last month. It was the most widely used illegal stimulant across the continent, but the highest rates of use were in the UK.

The second most widely used stimulant was ecstasy, or MDMA, with an estimated 550,000 recent users – 25% more than the previous year’s survey. In recent years, a glut of high-strength MDMA has led to stronger pills and an increase in the number of deaths.

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“Monkey Dust” drug use 'an epidemic', emergency workers war

August has seen a surge in reports across the UK relating to the use of ‘monkey dust’, a synthetic cathinone powder. Police are now warning the public against the use of the powerful stimulant drug, which has seen a number of people suffer from paranoia and agitation, among other side effects.

Monkey dust, or Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), was first developed in the 1960s by a German pharmaceutical company. The drug contains a stimulant known as cathinone, an ingredient derived from the plant Khat, and usually comes in a yellowish-white powder form which can be injected, snorted or ingested. Synthetic drugs such as MDPV can be made with tweaks to their chemical structure, which is why their side effects are so unpredictable. Tests on some of the samples of ‘monkey dust’ seized by the police have contained the more potent a chemical cousin of MDPV known as MDPHP. Many street users are purchasing the drug for as little as £2 a dose, makes people violent, paranoid and immune to pain. Staffordshire Police say they are getting 10 calls a day about the drug and have had more than 950 in the past three months.

Staffordshire Chief Superintendent Jeff Moore said that users were “difficult to deal with”.

A policeman said trying to arrest users was “dealing with someone who thinks they are The Incredible Hulk. We have seen cases where we’ve got people running into traffic, we have seen cases where we’ve got people climbing on to buildings. The drug is highly addictive and highly unpredictable, meaning that emergency services can often struggle to provide the appropriate treatment to those under the influence.”

Debbie Moores, of charity One Recovery North Staffordshire, said: “It is one of the worst drugs we have seen and it’s cheap.”

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Cannabis-derived medicinal products to be made available on prescription

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has decided to reschedule these products after receiving advice from experts during the two-part review he commissioned on June 19. It means that senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an “exceptional clinical need.”

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Medicines and Health products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will now develop a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product so they can be rescheduled and prescribed. Only products meeting this definition will be rescheduled. Other forms of cannabis will be kept under strict controls and will not be available on prescription.

In the meantime, clinicians will still be able to apply to the independent expert panel on behalf of patients wishing to access these products. The Home Secretary also confirmed that all licence fees for applications made to the panel will be waived, and no fees will be charged in respect of applications which have already been granted.

The government made it clear that the announcement “does not pave the way towards legalising cannabis for recreational use.” The penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged.

In the first part of the review commissioned by the Home Secretary, the Chief Medical Advisor, Professor Dame Sally Davies, concluded that there is evidence that medicinal cannabis has therapeutic benefits.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) carried out the second part of the review, considering the appropriate schedule for cannabis-derived medicinal products, based on the balance of harms and public health requirements.

The ACMD recommended that such products meeting a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product should be placed in Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. It agreed that there is evidence of medicinal benefits from some of these products in certain circumstances and clinicians in the UK should therefore have the option to prescribe cannabis-derived medicinal products for their patients.

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The first recreational drug testing facility in Britain opens in Bristol

Following a series of pilots across UK music festivals, the countrys’ first ever recreational drug safety testing facility has opened in Bristol.

The pop-up lab is run by the charity The Loop and able to test the quality and strength of drugs provided to it by users. The new scheme is supported by police, following other European countries that have implemented similar schemes to allow users to test drugs without fear of prosecution. The scheme was previously tested at Boomtown festival. According to The Loop one on ten people found that their drugs weren’t what they thought they were, with a significant amount of the stimulant pentylone, which can make people anxious and paranoid, being mis-sold as MDMA. Along with testing the safety of drugs, the initiative gives users 15 minutes of drug counselling, where they are provided with safety information about recreational drugs.

At Boomtown, 44% of customers said they would reduce their dose or discard their drugs entirely, and the festival reported a 25% reduction in drug-related medical incidents after introducing the drug safety initiative in 2017.

Fiona Measham, Professor of Criminology at Durham University and Director of the Loop said: “We were excited that such a vibrant city as Bristol was first to embrace drug safety testing, in a partnership with the police, council, public health and the local drugs service that hosted us. “It also provides an opportunity to proactively test ahead of festivals, to anticipate and avoid public health scares onsite. With the contamination of markets with fentanyl analogues, cathinones and cannabinoids, testing informs not only the individuals who come to use our service, but also local emergency services.

“In fact the Loop’s chemists identified 1 in 5 Bristol samples had been missold and further samples were much higher strength than expected, so the Loop’s healthcare staff were able to distribute appropriate advice and information tailored to those individuals. The point is that none of us knows what dealers are selling unless we test.”

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Cocaine breathalyser 'one step closer'

Researchers in the US say they have developed a low-cost chip that can detect cocaine in minutes. The team hopes it will lead to the development of a portable cocaine breathalyser that can tell if a person has used the drug.

At present, it says the chip can only analyse substances extracted from blood, breath, urine or saliva samples using a purification process. One road safety group called the research "exciting". The new chip is significant because it costs only a few pence to produce.

"These findings have the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of roadside drug testing," said Joshua Harris from UK road safety charity Brake. “Drug-driving was a factor in 81 fatal road crashes in 2016 and it is clearly an ever-increasing danger on our roads.

“We are calling upon the government to prioritise the type-approval of roadside screening devices that can detect all banned drugs and step up roads policing levels to deter offending."

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Rise in people seeking help over prescription pills bought online

A pioneering clinic set up to help teenagers addicted to Xanax and other prescription drugs is being sought out by adults who use pills purchased illicitly on the internet.

At the beginning of the year Dr Owen Bowden-Jones opened the Addiction to Online Medicine (Atom) service in London, a free, easy-to-access NHS clinic run by Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust that offers one-to-one meetings and group mindfulness sessions.

The clinic, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, was established in response to the growing problem of teenagers addicted to prescription drugs, particularly Xanax, bought illegally on the web.

What has surprised Bowden-Jones is that a third of current referrals are over 20. “When we established the clinic we were at the peak in terms of interest in Xanax and we were seeing a lot of young people using it,” he says. “But one of the cohorts we have seen are people in their 20s and 30s – people who are prescribed a medicine and then they seek it online, either because the dose they have is not enough or the medicine is stopped by their GP .”

“Teenagers tend to use these drugs for the intoxicating effect, to get giddy and drunk, but older people tend to use it to treat symptoms, particularly anxiety. We have had a number of patients with traumatic experiences and for them these medicines are being used to anaesthetise themselves.”

The adult group tend to use benzodiazepines to treat anxiety and tend to be women, he says. They have a job, have a partner, friends and a social network, “but have a secret that they have been buying drugs online and not telling people. They are often quite ashamed about it, but they found they cannot cope without prescription medicines.”

Benzodiazepines are currently prescribed on the NHS but are only supposed to be used in the short term. Research shows around four in every 10 people who take them every day for more than six weeks become addicted. In the UK, alprazolam is not available on the NHS and can only be obtained on a private prescription. Tranquillisers are controlled under Class C of the Misuse of

Drugs Act and possession without a prescription could lead to a prison sentence of up to 2 years and an unlimited fine.

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Police ‘decriminalising cannabis’ as prosecutions fall away

Police forces are in effect decriminalising cannabis, campaigners say, after uncovering figures that show a substantial fall in the number of prosecutions and cautions for possessing the drug.

Last year only 15,120 people in England and Wales were prosecuted for possession of cannabis, a fall of 19% since 2015. Police issued cautions to 6,524 people in 2017 – 34% fewer than two years before.

The figures from the Ministry of Justice were released in response to a parliamentary question from the Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb, who called for a “regulated cannabis market” to protect public health. “It would confound all expectations if the number of people actually in possession of cannabis is falling, which strongly suggests that police are starting to decriminalise regardless of the government’s stubborn refusal to legalise and regulate the sale of this drug,” he said.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said this month that “crimilising people was not a good idea”, while William Hague, the former Conservative foreign secretary, has said Britain ought to be preparing a lawful, regulated market in cannabis for recreational use.

The ministry’s figures show that nearly every police force gave fewer cautions and pursued fewer prosecutions for cannabis possession. Only in Cheshire was there a small rise in prosecutions, of 3%.

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Children as young as 13 addicted to cocaine

Teenagers as young as 13 are being treated for cocaine use according to a leading drug and alcohol recovery charity.

Addaction, the drug and alcohol charity, says the problem has become so bad it has lowered the age threshold for treatment at its South Lanarkshire service from 14 to 13 years old.

Andrew Horne, its director in Scotland, warned that as the price of cocaine continues to fall, more teenagers and young people will have access to the drug.

Addaction’s Jacqueline Baker-Whyte, who works at the service in Hamilton, said: "We’ve had 13-year-olds attend our service for help with cocaine problems. It’s obviously a very small number of kids, but there are quite a few in the 15 plus age group."

In the past 18 months Addaction’s South Lanarkshire service has treated 62 people under 16 for drug and alcohol problems. The majority of clients aged 15 or older report regular personal cocaine use. The service has supported some clients under the age of 15 for cocaine.

Baker-Whyte continued: “In the past, cocaine was a drug for people with money. That’s no longer the case. It’s cheap, plentiful and easy to get. The quality is usually poor and the side effects can be horrendous.

“The problem with young people using cocaine is that it’s an appalling drug for growing brains. It’s hard to think of a worse substance for mental health; that’s aside from the significant physical effects and the problems with dependency.”

In Argyll Bute, Addaction staff have noticed an increase in both availability and purity of cocaine. This means people can buy their usual batches in larger quantities, or instead buy a higher strength product for only slightly more than the going-rate.

And in South Ayrshire, the charity is seeing people as young as 17 coming into their service, citing cocaine use as their primary problem.

Staff at Addaction in Fife say they are seeing increased cocaine use in all age groups and are working with clients who are using cocaine in multiple ways (snorting, smoking, injecting). Stephanie Keenan, who leads Addaction’s web chat service said: “I get a lot of people using our chat function to get support for cocaine use. I think it’s almost a social norm in some circles. But the impact on mental health is devastating.

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NHS to launch first internet addiction clinic

A London hospital is preparing to launch the first ever NHS-funded internet addiction centre for young people and adults.

The move comes at a time of growing concern about internet and gaming dependency, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) classifying gaming disorder as a mental health condition this week.

The centre, run by the Central and North West London NHS foundation trust, will initially focus on gaming disorders, with a plan to expand its services to cover other internet-based addictions. It will be a place of treatment and research, offering advice to families.

“Gaming disorder is finally getting the attention it deserves. The distress and harm it can cause is extreme and I feel a moral duty on behalf of the NHS to provide the evidence based treatment these young people and their families need,” said psychiatrist Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the clinic’s founder.

“We are unlikely to witness an epidemic of young players with an addiction to gaming but for the ones who do struggle, the Centre for Internet Disorders will be a life-changer.”

The WHO’s decision has been praised by some while others argue that the move is premature. At present there are some private hospitals in the UK where gaming disorder is being treated but none offer free treatment.

Funding has so far been secured for a weekly therapy group for gaming addicts, according to Bowden-Jones. Subject to clearing some final hurdles, the centre will be financed by the NHS, research grants and philanthropic sources.

“This is the first step, but the Centre for Internet Disorders will deal with other internet compulsions, if and when needed, when funding is available. If we end up with 20 people or 30 wanting to be treated for porn addiction, for example ... if we have got the funding for that then we could provide help,” she said.

Bowden-Jones said that they were initially focusing on gaming because they were keen to protect young people from dropping out of school. Gaming disorder is defined by the WHO as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests”.

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Cannabis addiction 'rising among women and over 40s'

In the past 10 years, the number of women citing the drug as their sole concern at treatment centres more than doubled, from 471 to 1008. Researchers blame an increase in the potency of the drug and are calling for more and better treatment. Cannabis is still however primarily used by young men.

The study analysed figures from Public Health England on people seeking help at drug treatment centres between 2005-06 and 2015-16. The increase comes despite fewer people using cannabis. The number of people who use it at least once a month has fallen from two million to 1.4 million during the past decade, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

It remains the most popular illegal recreational drug in the UK, however. Report author Ian Hamilton, a lecturer in addiction at York University, said: "The narrative is that cannabis is a young person's problem.

"That is still the case, but we are seeing a steady and significant rise in addiction problems amongst people over 40, particularly women.

"Cannabis is cheap and widely available. And many women consider it to be benign. For many people it will be, but there are a significant number who go on to develop problems. Older people were probably used to cannabis at a lower strength. Now, the market is awash with higher potency stuff, often grown domestically.

"In some cases, resin can be nearly three times stronger than drugs on the street in 2005. Higher potency cannabis, which is often combined with tobacco, could increase the likelihood of people developing health problems."

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UK among world's biggest buyers of drugs on dark web as illicit trade grows, survey finds

The UK is among the biggest global purchasers of drugs on the ‘dark web’ as the illicit online trade grows, new research has found.

The Global Drugs Survey 2018 showed that more than a quarter of British drug users who responded, bought substances on websites where they seek to remain anonymous by disguising their location and paying with cryptocurrency.

Dealers then send drugs by post to evade checks at air and sea ports in the UK, where authorities are attempting to crack down on the practice. Higher rates of dark web buying were only found in Finland (46 per cent) and Norway (30 per cent) and researchers said a variety of factors are driving the trend.

Professor Adam R Winstock, a consultant psychiatrist and founder of the survey, said the method tended to be more popular in countries with tight drug laws and an online shopping habit.

“We have one of the highest rates of CCTV cameras in the world in Britain and so people want to keep themselves away from prying eyes. People are looking at getting the best bang for their buck - this is the expansions of online consumption. They look for convenience, product range, quality vendor ratings - it’s exactly the same reasons you would buy stuff of Amazon.”

Ecstasy, followed by cannabis, LSD and novel (unapproved) drugs are the most commonly purchased on the dark web. Prof Winstock said the product tended to be higher quality than that sold by street dealers, raising fears that users could accidentally overdose because they do not know the purity of a drug.

“It could increase problems because of a sudden people are able to get drugs really easily and they’re better quality,” he added. “But on the flip side, they’re not meeting dodgy street dealers and there is less risk of arrest and criminality.”

Data from 65,000 dark net buyers who responded to the Global Drug Survey 2018 showed they tend to be younger than other users, with a median age of just 21 years old, male and less likely to be in paid employment. Around 43 per cent of respondents said they had either taken drugs for the first time via the dark web, a different class or wider range of drugs, suggesting many are trying new substances.

Prof Winstock said that there was no concrete evidence that it allowed people to access drugs at an earlier age because of the knowledge required to access the websites themselves and the need for a bank account. But he raised concern over the growing ability for people to introduce themselves to drug-taking without being minded by close friends, which is how the vast majority are still introduced to illegal substances.

“It might well allow isolated individuals to go off and take drugs without any guidance,” Prof Winstock said. “People think that if they are getting the best quality drug it’s safer but it’s not, you need to know the purity.”

Vince O’Brien, head of drugs operations at the National Crime Agency (NCA), said that people “just don’t know what they’re buying”.

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