WHATS NEW? - February 2019

Xanax: Treatment for addiction rises sharply in children

Pregabalin and gabapentin become Class C’ drugs amid addiction fears

Laughing gas laws not working, says ex-chief crown prosecutor

One in three young people have mental health troubles, survey finds

Public 'turning blind eye' to street drug dealing

Big drinkers could be altering their genes to fuel alcohol addiction, says study

'County lines': huge scale of £500m drug industry revealed

Mentally ill people more at risk of losing benefits, study shows

Quarter of Brits want to cut down on booze, survey says

Xanax: Treatment for addiction rises sharply in children

The number of children being treated for addiction to tranquilisers has doubled in a year, to more than 300, according to Public Health England.

The drug Xanax, and copies of it, accounted for the sharpest rise - from eight children receiving treatment in 2016-17 to 53 in 2017-18. Xanax is the brand name for the drug alprazolam, a benzodiazepine prescribed for anxiety or panic attacks. But many of the pills taken by children are copies bought online, with no indication of their strength or whether they have been adulterated.

Ambulance services around the country have also reported a growing problem. In 2017-18, more than 15,500 children had help for substance misuse, 88% for cannabis.

UK Addiction Treatment group psychiatrist Dr Durrani says: "Benzos work by literally slowing down the functions of the brain, acting as a leveller in times of high stress, over-excitement or anxiety. Serious side-effects can occur, including slurring words or even total blackouts. We're seeing more and more people admitting themselves after becoming addicted to benzos.In most cases, their misuse stemmed from using the drug recreationally at parties and mixing it with alcohol, which proves a toxic combination."

The North East Ambulance Service, which provided the most comprehensive details to a BBC Freedom of Information request sent to six ambulance services, said that in 2017 it had attended 240 callouts for Xanax abuse by children, two of which had been for 11-year-olds.

Drugs, alcohol and tobacco director for Public Health England Rosanna O'Connor says: "Despite fewer under-18s asking for help with drug and alcohol problems, it remains a significant issue and the latest data shows an increasing number of young people needing treatment for benzodiazepines.

"However, there is limited evidence and data for these drugs, so we do not have a clear picture of changes in use.

"Benzodiazepines are risky when taken without medical supervision and mixing them with alcohol or other drugs increases the risk of harm, particularly when mixed with other sedatives."

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Pregabalin and gabapentin become Class C’ drugs amid addiction fears

Two painkillers have been reclassified as class C controlled substances amid concerns people are becoming addicted to them and misusing them.

The drugs - pregabalin and gabapentin - are also used for epilepsy and anxiety.

The move, announced by the Home Office, means it will now be illegal to posses the drugs without a prescription and it will be illegal to supply or sell them to others.

The government acted after experts said tighter controls were needed. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs raised concerns about the drugs - amid reports of a rising number of fatalities being linked to the drug.

The law change will still mean the drugs are available for legitimate use on prescription, but there will be stronger controls in place. Doctors will now need to physically sign prescriptions, rather than electronic copies being accepted by pharmacists. It puts them on the same legal footing as tranquilisers and ketamine.

Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said the government decided to change the law after receiving expert advice.

"Any death related to misuse of drugs is a tragedy" she said.

It comes as Public Health England is reviewing what it says is the "growing problem" of prescription drug addiction. NHS data has suggested one in every 11 patients in England is being prescribed medication which could be addictive, or difficult to come off. This includes sedatives, painkillers and antidepressants.

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Laughing gas laws not working, says ex-chief crown prosecutor

The law governing the sale of nitrous oxide, widely known as laughing gas, is simply not working, a former senior prosecutor has said.

Legislation introduced in 2016 made it illegal to sell the gas, also known as "noz", for psychoactive purposes. But undercover BBC journalists easily bought nitrous oxide by phone, online and in person at two Manchester shops.

Former North West of England Chief Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal said the law was clearly failing to stop supply.

Nitrous oxide use was linked to five deaths last year, according to official statistics, and is the second most popular recreational drug after cannabis in England and Wales.

Its supply is difficult to control because it has legal uses - to produce whipped cream in the catering industry, and in medicine as an anaesthetic.

A joint investigation by BBC North West Tonight and BBC Radio Manchester found it was relatively simple to flout the law.

A reporter called Bolton-based 24/7 delivery company Speedy Whipped Creams and asked if she could get some "noz" delivered to an address in Manchester.

Within two hours, a taxi driver handed over a bag containing two boxes of 24 canisters.

In a statement, Speedy Whipped Creams said: "We do not sell laughing gas - we sell cream chargers.

"If we'd known the customer intended to use the product as a drug, we would not have delivered it."

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One in three young people have mental health troubles, survey finds

One in three young people are suffering from mental troubles such as depression, negative feelings or inability to focus, a survey of more than 5,500 British teenagers has found.

The findings suggest that more school-age children than previously thought are struggling with their mental and emotional wellbeing, including problems sleeping properly.

Of the 5,555 people aged between 13 and 15 from across the UK who answered the charity Action for Children’s survey, 1,840 were found to have an issue.

The most common problems experienced were feeling depressed or anxious, displaying restless sleep and an inability to shake off negative feelings, even with the help of family and friends. Others said they found it hard to “get going”, could not focus on what they were doing or felt that everything was “an effort”.

“It’s troubling that so many of our young people are dealing with issues of depression and anxiety, and all too often alone,” said Julie Bentley, Action for Children’s chief executive.

Pressure arising from school work and social media can be too much for young people and help explain the high prevalence of mental health problems among them, added Bentley. “Young people are increasingly concerned about their futures as they become more aware of the political environment around them,” she said. “Many are dealing with the intense pressure of school work, others are experiencing problems at home.

“Add in navigating an increasingly complex 24/7 world with constant stimulation from social media and things often become too much for young people to handle.”

The results indicated that mental health problems are more widespread in young people than previous research has found. They come a month before the NHS publishes the first new estimate since 2004 of how many under-18s in England have a diagnosable condition. Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, and the National Audit Office have both said they expect it to show that rates are much higher than the one in 10 that emerged from the 2004 research.

Concerns have been growing that NHS services are unable to cope with the continuing rise in demand for mental health care from under-18s and that many are either being forced to wait up to 18 months for treatment or being denied it altogether. Last year 324,724 children and young people accessed NHS care in England for problems such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

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Public 'turning blind eye' to street drug dealing

People are "turning a blind eye" to drug use and dealing on the streets because it is becoming normalised, a senior police officer has warned. Now communities have been urged to help deal with the rising problem by reporting sightings.

Det Insp Stuart Johnson, who covers Swansea and Neath Port Talbot for South Wales Police, said it was one way of tackling "county lines" drugs gangs.

The two areas are in the top ten 1 for heroin deaths in England and wales.

They had more than 4.5 deaths from the drug and morphine per 100,000 people between 2014 and 2016.

Insp Johnson said: "County lines is a business and unfortunately Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot have a large degree of drug users. If there's a demand for the sale of drugs down here, like any business, they will come down here to try to sell some of their goods."

He added: "It's become normalised seeing a drug user in the street or drug dealing taking place and I think we have to change that attitude in our communities.

"I know communities get frustrated. They say they report things to the police and other agencies and nothing is done about it.

"We try our best to come back to them through the community approach, through our partners to say what we're doing.

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Big drinkers could be altering their genes to fuel alcohol addiction, says study

Heavy drinking can alter DNA in ways that increase the desire for alcohol, new research suggests. The findings may help explain why alcohol addiction is so powerful and hard to resist, say scientists.

Scientists from Rutgers University in the U.S. looked at two genes that play a role in the control of drinking behaviour. One is PER2, which influences the body’s biological clock, and the other POMC, which regulates stress responses.

The scientists then checked the DNA of groups of moderate and heavy drinkers, as well as binge-drinkers.

They discovered that the two genes had undergone “epigenetic” changes in both heavy and binge-drinkers, but not moderate drinkers. Their DNA had been affected by modifications that can turn genes on or off.

Senior researcher Professor Dipak Sarkar, from Rutgers University, said: “We found that people who drink heavily may be changing their DNA in a way that makes them crave alcohol even more.

“This may help explain why alcoholism is such a powerful addiction, and may one day contribute to new ways to treat alcoholism or help prevent at-risk people from becoming addicted.”

The findings, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, were backed by experiments involving real-life responses to alcohol.

Participants were shown an array of neutral, stress-related or alcohol-related images as well as containers of beer, which they were invited to taste.

Their motivation to drink was then evaluated.

The results suggested that the genetic changes observed earlier caused binge and heavy drinkers to be more drawn to alcohol.

In the background to their research, the scientists cited a World Health Organisation report which said that in 2016 more than three million people died as a result of alcohol abuse.

More than three-quarters of these alcohol-related deaths were among men. The harmful use of alcohol also caused 5.1% of the global burden of disease and injury that year.

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'County lines': huge scale of £500m drug industry revealed

The scale of the “county lines” trade, in which criminal networks exploit thousands of children and vulnerable adults to funnel hard drugs from cities to towns and rural areas, is greater than crime-fighting chiefs previously thought, with a fresh assessment revealing a £500m industry linked to murder and sexual exploitation.

County lines involves gangs in cities such as London, Birmingham and Liverpool using children as young as 11 to deal mostly heroin and crack cocaine over a network of dedicated mobile phones.

The number of individual phone numbers identified by law enforcement officials as being used on established county lines networks is now 2,000 – nearly three times the 720 previously established, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

In its annual assessment of the county lines trade, the NCA said the phone numbers were linked to about 1,000 branded networks, with a single line capable of making £800,000 profits in a year. County lines offenders have been caught using mass marketing text messages to advertise drugs with promotions such as two-for-one deals and free samples, the report revealed.

The majority of victims groomed into working for gangs are 15- to 17-year-old boys but children as young as 11 have been safeguarded and girls have been targeted.

Many victims are recruited over social media, with offenders luring them by showing off images of cash, designer clothing and luxury cars, but vulnerable girls and women are being targeted by men who create the impression of a romantic relationship before subjecting them to sexual exploitation.

Vulnerable drug users are at continuing risk of serious violence, including loss of life, with a number of murders identified as having county lines links.

Nikki Holland, the director of investigations and county lines lead at the NCA, told journalists at the agency’s headquarters in south-west London that profits from the county lines trade nationwide were estimated at about £500m.

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Mentally ill people more at risk of losing benefits, study shows

People with mental health conditions such as psychosis, anxiety and low mood are at far greater risk of having their benefits stopped than those with physical ailments, research shows.

Benefits claimants who have a psychiatric condition are 2.4 times more likely than those with diabetes, back pain or epilepsy to lose their entitlement to disability living allowance.

The findings are based on government data about 327,000 people with either type of health condition who switched from receiving DLA to personal independence payments (PIP) between April 2013 and October 2016.

People with serious psychiatric conditions can lose as much as £141.10 a week as a result, the study says.

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a neurodevelopmental condition- were 3.4 times more likely than those with a physical ailment to have their benefits taken away. Those with alcohol or drug problems were twice as likely.

The findings raise fresh questions over whether people who are struggling with mental ill health are at a disadvantage when they have to negotiate the benefits system.

The study, which was carried out by five researchers from York University, led by Katie Pybus, found: “Overall, claimants with a psychiatric condition were 2.4 times more likely than a claimant with a non-psychiatric condition to have their existing DLA entitlement removed following a PIP eligibility assessment.”

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Quarter of Brits want to cut down on booze, survey says

The YouGov poll – one of the first surveys into attitudes towards low alcohol – found that 24 % of British drinkers are keen to cut back on booze, rising to nearly a third (31%) for the 18-24 year old bracket, dubbed ‘Generation Sensible’.

It found that 9% of the younger age bracket had already cut back with a further 22% intending to over the next six months, compared to 7% of the total polled, and 18% who intend to in the next six months.

The most popular reason for opting for a low alcohol drink – chosen by a third of the people surveyed – was being able to drive home from a event (32%), while more than a quarter (26%) said being social without drinking excessively was a key factor, and staying within the low risk drinking guidelines was a key driver for 13% of those polled. But it wasn’t all about drinking out of the home – 60% said they would consider drinking low alcohol alternatives at home, compared to 59% at a restaurant and 55% at a pub.

John Timothy, chief executive of the Portman Group said it was “fantastic” to see so many people embracing low alcohol alternatives as a way to continue to enjoy a drink whilst doing so responsibly.

“These findings are a reflection of the positive trends we are seeing when it comes to declining binge drinking levels and the cultural shift that is happening in the relationship between young people and alcohol.”

However he pointed out that while many producers were already investing heavily in low and no-alcohol products, not enough was being done to update the current, confusing labelling system.

“Given the importance of this sector to helping people make healthy choices about their drinking, more needs to be done to support its growth,” he warned.

Polling undertaken by the Portman Group earlier this year found that 68% of British adults thought it was clearer to have just one term to define a drink containing no more than 0.5% of alcohol, rather than the four that are used to describe low alcohol drinks.

Under the current rules, producers can only label a product as “low alcohol” if it has an ABV below 1.2%. Alcohol-free products must be 0.05% ABV or lower, and anything with an ABV of 0.5% should be called “de-alcoholised.” Drinks producers and industry leaders said the current guidelines are confusing for consumers.

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