Internet drug dealing on the rise, survey finds

Cannabis 'scratch and sniff' cards used to track down farms

EU warns of 280 new 'legal highs' in circulation

Worrying rise in young people with alcohol-related liver disease

Study Claims Ketamine Lifts Depression in Hours

Community group launches Khat awareness programme

Family call for ban on DNP slimming drug

Amy Winehouse Foundation launches programme for schools

Rise in child smokers with more than 200,000 youngsters taking up the habit

Increase in drugs prescribed for alcohol dependency

Internet drug dealing on the rise, survey finds

The recent Global Drug Survey suggests Silk Road is just the most visible aspect of a much larger online drug-dealing phenomenon.

The internet is starting to rival the backstreets as a place to buy illicit drugs, according to findings from the 2013 Global Drug Survey, with 22% of users reporting they had bought drugs online.

The online marketplace Silk Road has risen to notoriety recently as essentially an eBay for drugs: a service operating where law enforcement cannot trace the computers of sellers or buyers, where transactions use the anonymous and untraceable online currency Bitcoin.

But responses to the Global Drug Survey, an annual academic research poll with more than 7,000 UK respondents, suggest Silk Road is merely the most visible aspect of a much wider phenomenon.

Just under a third of survey respondents had heard of the Silk Road marketplace, while 14% had set up an account on the site and browsed its wares. However, only 3% said they had themselves bought and used drugs from the site – though a similar number had taken drugs a friend had bought on Silk Road.

Wider drug dealing online happens with less rigorous secrecy than the hi-tech (but hard to use) Silk Road. Instead, it relies on obscure coded listings hidden among job adverts, private sales and suspiciously cheap properties to let – "flat for rent – £60 – ask for Charlie".

Such sales are strictly against the terms and conditions of all major listings and exchange sites, and are done without the complicity of their owners. However, as most lack the resources to pre-check each of the hundreds of thousands of listings they host, many are only flagged if a user marks the listing as suspicious.

The survey also highlights the internet's rise as a source for drugs: asked when they had first used the internet to buy, half said in the last two years, while fewer than one in eight had used the internet to buy drugs before 2005. Alcohol topped the list of concerns among respondents who said they were worried about a friend's drug usage – a question which also serves as a proxy for attitudes towards an individual's own use. Just under half of respondents said they'd been concerned by a friend's drug or alcohol use in the last year. Alcohol was the most common concern, at 19%, followed by cannabis and cocaine, each on 12%.

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Cannabis 'scratch and sniff' cards used to track down farms

Cannabis-scented scratch cards are to be posted to hundreds of households in a bid to detect illegal cannabis farms.

Crimestoppers, which runs the campaign, said the cards would help people to recognise the smell of cannabis and report suspected plantations to police. The charity said there was a 15% rise in the number of cannabis farms found in homes between 2011 and 2012. West Yorkshire police area had the largest number of cannabis plantations uncovered in the UK.

According to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), about 1,800 cannabis farms were found in the area by officers between 2010 and 2012. South Yorkshire had the second highest number with 1,600 farms uncovered in the same period. Other hotspots included London, where more than 1,200 farms were detected, Greater Manchester, which had 800 plantations uncovered and Humberside, where officers found nearly 300 cultivations.

Andy Bliss, from ACPO, said: "Many people don't realise that the empty, run-down house or flat on their street with people coming and going late at night may actually be a commercial cannabis farm. It's not just the stereotype of the remote rural set or disused industrial estate unit. These farms are often run by organised criminals [and] they bring crime and anti-social behaviour into local communities causing real harm and leaving people feeling unsafe."

Crimestoppers said growers were moving way from commercial and industrial properties and using homes to cultivate the plants.

The green and black cards release a scent that replicates the actual smell of cannabis during its growing state when scratched. The initiative started three years ago in Holland, where 30,000 scratch cards were distributed to homes.

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EU warns of 280 new 'legal highs' in circulation

Dozens of new synthetic drugs, often marketed as "legal highs" on the internet and made in Asia, emerged last year replacing traditional, plant-based drugs in Britain and Europe, according to official figures.

The European Union's Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has highlighted the new trend at a time when the use of cannabis, cocaine and heroin, drugs based on plants grown abroad and then smuggled into Europe, is slowing.

"The drug situation may now be in a state of flux, with 'new' problems emerging that challenge current policy and practice models: new synthetic drugs and patterns of use are appearing, both on the illicit drug market and in the context of non-controlled substances," the centre said in its annual report. Today's drug market appears to be less structured around plant-based substances shipped over long distances to consumer markets in Europe."

The centre reported that there are now more than 280 of the new drugs in circulation, with 73 appearing the last year alone, with many of them made from chemicals designed to mimic the effects of cannabis.

According to the EU report, amphetamine or speed-type stimulants are the main synthetic drugs trafficked to Britain, "with countries of origin being China and India for the majority of these substances".

"The new drugs phenomenon is now recognised to be a global issue and a globalised market, which makes it particularly difficult to control," said Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, the EU police intelligence agency.
"Organised crime is involved in the production of new drugs, a rapidly developing and expanding market with low risks and high profits. The growing use of hybrid and complex synthetic "highs" made in illegal labs from mixtures of chemicals, with unknown side-effects, poses a new threat to the health of young people using the new drugs, usually in nightclubs.

"A recent development is an increasing proportion of substances reported that are from less known and more obscure chemical groups," said the EU report. Many of the products on sale contain mixtures of substances, and the lack of pharmacological and toxicological data means it is hard to speculate on long term health implications of use."

Up to a quarter of Europe's adult population, 85 million people, have used an illegal drug at some point in their lives with most of them, 77 million, using cannabis, which can be legally consumed in some European countries.

The report warned that soaring youth unemployment driven by the eurozone crisis and cuts to public health budgets via EU-imposed austerity programmes could reverse declines in new heroin use and cocaine consumption.

"Optimism, however, must be tempered by concerns that youth unemployment and service cuts could lead to the re-emergence of problems," said the EU agency.

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Worrying rise in young people with alcohol-related liver disease

Experts are warning people about the long-term effects of alcohol as new figures reveal the number of hospital admissions for people under 30 with alcohol-related liver disease has increased by 400% in the North East – the England increase was 117%.

Research carried out by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, has shown that 115 people under the age of 30 were admitted to hospital for alcohol-related liver disease last year, compared to 23 in 2002/03.

Hospital admissions across both genders and for all age ranges have also continued to rise in the North East for alcohol-related liver disease, almost doubling over the last 10 years from 2,088 in 2002/03 to 4,146 in 2011/12.In England the number of admissions rose from 25,706 in 2002/03 to 49,456 in 2011/12 – an increase of 92%.

Dr Steven Masson, Consultant Hepatologist at the Freeman Hospital's Liver Transplant Unit, said: "It is extremely worrying that we are seeing an increasing number of younger people diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease. Although these figures may seem relatively small, the fact that 115 young people in our region were admitted into the North East hospitals with alcohol-related liver disease in the past year is terrifying. Only a few years ago this disease was extremely rare in people under 30 but unless our drinking habits change, the problem is only set to worsen."

"We need to ensure that people are aware of the dangers. The earlier the age at which people drink, and the more they drink, the greater the chance of developing terminal liver disease in adult life. Unfortunately in many cases, by the time people are presenting with these symptoms to a specialist the damage has already been done. And the damage is irreversible.

Alcohol-related liver disease does not usually cause any symptoms until the liver has been extensively damaged but starts with fat deposits in the liver leading to inflammation (steatohepatitis), fibrosis (scar tissue) and ultimately liver failure from Cirrhosis.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office; said: "These figures demonstrate that we have a real problem and alcohol continues to have a devastating impact on our health. People are drinking too much from an early age driven by alcohol which is too affordable, too available and too heavily promoted. We will continue to support Government and minimum unit price as an evidenced-based approach to reduce alcohol harm. Despite receiving criticism, it is a targeted measure which increases the price of the most harmful alcohol such as strong white cider, and protects younger and heavier drinkers who are more likely to drink cheap alcohol, and suffer the consequences. It will have no effect on the price of a pint in a community pub."

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Study Claims Ketamine Lifts Depression in Hours

The largest study to date confirms that ketamine — a "club drug" that is also legally used as an anesthetic — could be a quick and effective way to relieve depression.

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association and represent growing excitement about ketamine's potential. The study included 72 patients who had previously failed to respond to at least two other medications. After receiving a single intravenous (IV) dose of ketamine, 64% of patients reported fewer depression symptoms within one day compared to 28% of those given midazolam — an anesthetic drug that was used as a control.

"This research reports the largest controlled evaluation of the antidepressant effects of ketamine to date," says Dr. John Krystal, professor of psychiatry at Yale University, who published the first study in 2000 suggesting that ketamine could quickly lift depression, but was not associated with this trial.

Antidepressants typically take weeks to improve mood — and that's a time when people with the disorder are at an especially high risk of suicide. "Among people who respond to antidepressants, it takes on average 7 weeks to produce this response," Krystal says, "When simply getting through a single day can be difficult, waiting 7 weeks to get better can be daunting." Ketamine— and similar drugs currently being tested by pharmaceutical companies could help relieve suffering faster and potentially reduce the suicide risk associated with the mood disorder.

And because the doses used were lower than those taken by clubbers or used in anesthesia, most patients didn't have the extreme experiences of "out of body" sensations or profoundly distorted perceptions of reality. "Nobody freaked out," says Murrough, adding that most described the experience of the infusion as being similar to having had a few drinks. About 10%, however, did have some dissociative effects. "One patient reported wondering whether time still existed during the infusion," he says.

The results are especially noteworthy because ketamine was compared to another anesthetic with similar psychoactive effects, not just a placebo. Such comparisons are important because drugs that result in highly noticeable responses like sedation also tend to have strong placebo effects. Researchers had argued that without such a comparison, it would be difficult to tell whether ketamine was actually relieving depression.

"This design was elegant because midazolam briefly made patients feel better, but did not produce a real antidepressant effect," Krystal says, "In contrast, ketamine produced the robust antidepressant effects that have been observed in every study of ketamine since our initial preliminary observations. This is the first direct evidence that the antidepressant effects of ketamine are specific, increasing our confidence in importance of this clinical observations."

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Community group launches Khat awareness programme

A Manchester community group has warned that a legal plant-based drug that is widely used in Britain's Somali community could lead to addiction and serious health problems.

Members of Manchester based Educate 4 Life believe that khat, a plant native to east Africa, lowers inhibitions with potentially dangerous results. They claim that it's amphetamine-like substances can lead to insomnia, aggression and mental health problems.

When chewed, khat stimulates feelings of mild euphoria and increased energy. It has been banned in America, Canada and most of Europe but it remains legal in Britain.

However, Educate 4 Life's founders as well as some health experts believe that the regular use of khat by British-based Somali and Yemeni communities is a 'disaster waiting to happen'.

The group's co-founder Abdi Saleiman from Moss Side, Manchester was until recently a regular user of the drug. He decided to give it up after he learned about its health dangers and he wants to warn others.

He said: "Khat is a major issue facing the Somali community. People may be reluctant to stop using it but we want to raise awareness of the risks behind it and encourage people to reduce their usage. Previously, it was only used by the older generation, but now it's more affordable we are seeing younger and younger people doing it."

He added: "For men who can't find work, it is an escape for them every day – the same as people who drink."

Educate 4 Life's other co-founder Abdi Osman, 35, said: "Using khat every day is a disaster waiting to happen. You can't eat or sleep and can become paranoid or aggressive. It is also linked to long-term mental health problems and mouth infections."

Educate 4 Life is working with other community groups, councillors, the local health service and the Greater Manchester Police to build an awareness campaign about khat use. It is believed that nearly 60 per cent of Somalia's population and 80 percent of people in Yemen regularly chew khat.

Earlier this year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) released a report saying that there was "insufficient evidence" that khat caused serious health problems and rejected calls for it to be banned in the UK. However, Professor Kamaldeep Bhui, director of the Cultural Consultation Service at Queen Mary University, London said that the concerns of groups like Educate 4 Life should be taken seriously.

Bhui, one of the experts who submitted evidence to the ACMD which they used to compile the report, claimed that the national debate on khat is based on sketchy evidence and outdated thinking.

Bhui added that his own experience as a clinician working with members of London's Somali community who have mental health issues and those who are homeless, prompted him to also raise concerns about the drug and call for more research into the plant's possible harmful effects.

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Family call for ban on DNP slimming drug

The family of a medical student who suffered from bulimia and died after taking a pesticide sold as a weight-loss drug want it made illegal.

An inquest heard 23-year-old Leeds University student Sarah Houston died after taking the toxic slimming pill DNP mixed with antidepressants.Her family say it is "incomprehensible" such a drug can be bought online.

Recording a verdict of misadventure, coroner David Hinchliff said ministers should call for a change in the law. He said: "That would be the first step on the long road to trying to get substances controlled and I hope it becomes a campaign."

Although banned for human consumption, DNP is easily available online - in capsule form - because it is a legitimately-used pesticide. However, Ms Houston's family said the promotion of it also being a slimming aid is simply about exploiting people for profit.

In a statement after the recent inquest in Wakefield, Sarah's family said: "To lose someone so young in this way only adds to our devastation. DNP (2,4-dinitrophenol) is banned from human consumption but is used as a chemical pesticide.It is sold online as a slimming aid in tablet or powder form, but doctors say the 'fat-burner' is extremely dangerous to human health. The death of Sarah serves as a stark reminder of this."

Anyone who believes they may have taken DNP should seek medical advice immediately. Signs of acute poisoning include nausea, vomiting, restlessness, flushed skin, sweating, dizziness, headaches, rapid breathing and irregular heart-beat, which can lead to coma and death.

Consuming lower amounts over longer periods can cause cataracts and skin lesions and effects the heart, blood pressure and nervous system.

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Amy Winehouse Foundation launches programme for schools

The Amy Winehouse Foundation has launched a drug and alcohol educational programme for schools in England.

The foundation's Resilience Programme will initially be rolled out in 10 different locations and will be delivered by people who are already in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

Amy's father, Mitch made the announcement at a recent conference held alongside the drugs treatment charity Addaction. The Foundation are particularly concerned about young people trying new psychoactive substances.

He said: "We have to tell them what the compounds are in these so called legal highs. We're not saying to them, 'Don't do it. Don't smoke, don't drink, don't take legal highs.' We're saying, 'Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe. The the good part, if you want to call it that, is that crack cocaine and heroin are coming down, but legal highs are popular because they are cheap. It's poison and they don't know that it's poison."

He said that his plan was for a resilience programme to support and inform pupils, parents and teachers on drug and alcohol issues and any other personal concerns surrounding those issues.

The programme, with support from Childline, will also offer a free, confidential phone and online service for children and young people across the UK, if they don't feel confident discussing them in school.

"It's not just the kids that are suffering from addiction problems, it's the parents too," he said. "That's what we're there for, to highlight these problems and to help the young people and their parents."

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Rise in child smokers with more than 200,000 youngsters taking up the habit

Despite being too young to legally purchase tobacco products, the number of those aged between 11 and 15 choosing to smoke has risen by 50,000 in just one year according to Cancer Research UK.

The figure equates to 567 children taking up the smoking each day, the charity said. About 207,000 children started to smoke in 2011, a sharp rise from 157,000 in 2010.

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK, warned that most long term smokers take up the habit in childhood.

Almost one in three (27%) of under-16s have tried smoking at least once, the study by the charity found. It urged the Government to commit to putting all cigarettes in plain standardised packs. Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK, said: "With such a large number of youngsters starting to smoke every year, urgent action is needed to tackle the devastation caused by tobacco.

"Replacing slick, brightly-coloured packs that appeal to children with standard packs displaying prominent health warnings is a vital part of efforts to protect health. Reducing the appeal of cigarettes with plain, standardised packs will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.

"These figures underline the importance of sustained action to discourage young people from starting. Smoking kills and is responsible for at least 14 different types of cancer. Standardised packaging is popular with the public and will help protect children.

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Increase in drugs prescribed for alcohol dependency

The number of prescriptions to help people dependent on alcohol has increased by 75% in nine years, a government report on England says.

Nearly 180,000 prescriptions for drugs were given out in 2012 - the highest since the annual records began. The cost of those drugs came to about £2.93m in the past year.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre study also shows there were 1,220,300 hospital admissions related to alcohol in 2012.

The analysis pulls together information from a number of sources and shows almost two-thirds of admissions in the past year involved male patients. In the North East region, there were 3,156 admissions per 100,000 of the population for alcohol-related issues, while the lowest figure was in the South Central area, where admission rates were 1,074 per 100,000.

These hospital admissions - up 4% on the previous year - were where alcohol was the main cause of a disease, injury or condition.

Director of campaigns at Alcohol Concern Emily Robinson said: "The report highlights the number of admissions to hospital for alcohol-related conditions have risen by over 50% in the last 10 years. The government must get a grip and implement measures that will prevent this urgent situation from getting worse.

"Alcohol Concern estimates that only one in 16 people with alcohol problems is receiving specialist help as there is just not enough treatment available." Drug prescriptions were up 6% on the 2011 figure. Most were dispensed from GP surgeries, pharmacies or clinics, with just 6% being distributed in NHS hospitals.

The government currently recommends adult men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day and adult women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day. Refraining from alcohol for 48 hours after an episode of heavy drinking is also advised.

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