A recent survey by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, whose members include Beckley Foundation collaborators Professors Valerie Curran and David Nutt has revealed that users have noticed little difference in their ability to get hold of mephedrone, which is nicknamed miaow miaow, since it was banned.
The report, the key findings of which are to be published this week and is the first authoritative survey of mephedrone users since the government added the drug to the list of banned substances in April 2010, reveals that more than half of those questioned had noticed no change in the availability of the drug in their area.
It also shows that 44 per cent of those who have used mephedrone said the ban made them more likely to use the Class A party drug ecstasy instead.
Users describe the effects of mephedrone as somewhat similar to those of cocaine and MDMA.
Professor David Nutt, a leading psychopahrmacologist who chairs the committee and has been an outspoken critic of the Home Office’s approach to tackling recreational drugs which led to him being sacked as head of the government’s official drug advisory council, said banning mephedrone did not appear to have been effective.
He warned that the move, which came after mephedrone had been linked to a number of deaths which were later found not to be attributable to the drug, could be driving demand for other new drugs.
It comes after recent research revealed that 40 new synthetic drugs have flooded into the UK during the past year.
Professor Nutt said: “It is not at all clear that the ban on mephedrone has helped to reduce harm.
“The ban has not greatly affected the availability of mephedrone because people were stockpiling before the ban came in but also because it has been very difficult to stop it from coming into the country.
“The government will look at this survey and say that not everyone will continue to use it and some people have been put off, so the ban is working, but we are also seeing people who did use mephedrone using other things like ecstasy and cocaine.
“One of the dangers of the approach that has been taken is that if we ban every new drug without a balanced view, then people will keep making more new drugs to replace them and eventually they will make something that is extremely toxic which, when kids take it, they will die.
“So we could be provoking harm by the way we are handling these new drugs.”
Mephedrone was added to the list of banned substances by the Labour Government in April 2010 and was classified as Class B alongside cannabis and amphetamines.
Possession of mephedrone now carries a maximum sentence of five years while supplying the drug can lead to 14 year imprisonment.
There was intense pressure to ban mephedrone after it was linked to a number of deaths around the country.
On Thursday a coroner warned against taking the drug after two young men discovered hanging in woodland in Northumberland were found to have taken it.
But Professor Nutt insists that compared to other illicit substances, mephedrone is hard to overdose on and in the majority of cases where it has been linked to deaths the drug was subsequently not found to have been implicated.
The new survey, which questioned 1,500 drug users in an online questionnaire, found that 58 per cent of the respondents said they were less likely to use mephedrone since the ban, but 45 per cent said they would still try to get hold of it despite the ban and 51 per cent said the ban had not affected availability of the drug.
A fifth of those who responded said they had experienced a negative reaction to mephedrone after taking it but the drug was ranked eighth in a list of 13 harmful drugs with alcohol, tobacco, heroin and cocaine ahead of it.
Professor Nutt is now calling for the Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to review the ban on mephedrone and said future classifications of new drugs needed to be informed by scientific evidence on the effects and harm that the drugs can cause.
He said: “We need to learn lessons from the knee jerk reaction of a new drug that led to mephedrone being banned. What we have done now is to move users into contact with users and that is potentially very deleterious.
“There is the risk that dealers will encourage users onto other drugs.
“Comparatively, mephedrone is not a potent drug. We don’t know if a healthy young person can die from an average dose and you would have to take an awful lot to overdose. There are drugs out there on which it is possible to overdose on 100mg.”
The Home Office failed to respond to requests for a comment.
Richard Gray 9:00PM GMT 12 Feb 2011