"Club drugs" replacing heroin, crack in UK - experts

LONDON Mon Sep 26, 2011 10:20pm IST

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LONDON (Reuters) - "Club drug" abuse in Britain is on the rise, as young people ditch cocaine and heroin for mephedrone and ketamine, experts at the launch of a specialist drug clinic said on Monday.

Club drugs are constantly re-invented to evade drug laws and have left healthcare professionals ill-equipped to deal with new trends in substance abuse, consultant psychiatrist and founder of the Club Drug Clinic, Owen Bowden-Jones said.

"Patterns of drug use in the UK are changing and over the last two or three years we have continued to see an increase in the use of "club drugs"," Bowden-Jones said.

The number of 16-24 year olds who used the stimulant mephedrone last year was at a similar level to powder cocaine abuse -- a figure of around 300,000 people, a 2011 British Crime Survey showed.

Both of these drugs are banned in Britain, but there is a roaring trade for "legal highs" among the clubbing community and young professionals, experts said.

"There are new drugs emerging all the time, particularly a group of substances known as "legal highs". The health risks associated with excessive use of club drugs are underestimated by many people and little is known about the potential problems of the newer drugs," Bowden-Jones said.

"There are people who are running into major difficulty and are not aware of what dangers might be," he said.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) recorded 41 new drug compounds in 2010 and 20 new compounds in the first four months of 2011.

"We are seeing a whole plethora of different compounds that are being misused and are to a certain extent replacing more traditional drugs like heroin and crack cocaine," toxicologist at St George's Hospital Medical School, John Ramsey, said.

"The problem is knowing what to do about them. The way forward is evidence-based research but that is difficult when these compounds have never undergone pharmaceutical testing," he said.

The result is a lack of understanding about the drugs, and existing drug services that focus on alcohol, crack cocaine and heroin abuse are failing to cater for club drug addicts, according to Bowden-Jones.

"Many people experiencing club drug problems do not see current treatment services as well equipped to help them. As a result they do not seek treatment," he said.

The Club Drug Clinic, the first British funded team specialising in the treatment of club drug abuse, will be the "first step" in addressing the "knowledge gap" surrounding this area of drug addiction among healthcare professionals, he said.

(Created by Paul Casciato)

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