Explosion of legal-high deaths leads to ‘buyer beware’ alert

Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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THE dangers of so-called “legal highs”, which are sweeping Scotland, were stressed yesterday in a report showing an eightfold increase in UK deaths from the drugs.

THE dangers of so-called “legal highs”, which are sweeping Scotland, were stressed yesterday in a report showing an eightfold increase in UK deaths from the drugs.

A report by the International Centre for Drug Policy reveals that more than 40 deaths across the UK were linked to the new class of drugs in 2010, compared with five the previous year.

One expert warned that the drugs were not tested, adding: “Buyers beware.”

The largest increase was down to the drug Meow Meow, also known as mephedrone, which was linked to all five deaths in 2009, before being observed in 29 deaths in 2010.

The National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths report was compiled by researchers working at the drug policy centre based at St George’s, University of London. Since the collection of the data, mephedrone is no longer categorised as a legal high and has been reclassified as an illegal class-B drug.

But last night a report author, John Corkery, warned other dangerous legal highs had come on to the market and were being used in Scotland.

Mr Corkery, an expert in drug-related mortality, said: “We are aware of these things in Scotland. People will look at new classes of drug and try to mani­pulate them – to change the physical structure of the mole­cules to get round the law with unknown consequences.

“The trouble is that these things are not tested and therefore takers don’t know what is going to happen – so buyers beware.”

Mr Corkery warned that use of Benzo Fury was on the rise. Benzo Fury is thought to be behind the death of Alex Heriot, 19, from Portobello, Edinburgh, who died at the RockNess festival earlier this year.

Annihilation, a substance supposed to mimic cannabis, also left nine people in hospital in the past three months.

Strathclyde Police said the drug, described as a herbal incense, was being used predominantly by youngsters in and around the Glasgow area.

In September, Jackie Jarvis – the mother of a seven-week-old girl and two older girls – died after a suspected overdose of a so-called legal high thought to be similar to mephedrone.

She suffered a seizure at a house party in Glenrothes, Fife, and died in hospital.

The report found that overall the number of drug deaths in Scotland fell from 365 from 479 between 2009 and 2010. That compared with a fall in England from 1,524 to 1,358.

John Arthur, director of Crew 2000, an Edinburgh-based drugs advisory service, said: “We would imagine there would be legal highs implicated in at least some deaths, as they are often consumed in conjunction with alcohol and other drugs, and ‘poly drug use’ is most often a causal factor in drug deaths..

“The fact that these substances can’t be sold for human consumption means dosage information can rarely be given that might reduce the risk. We would reiterate that legal doesn’t necessarily mean safe, and very often the potency is unknown.”

Legal highs come in all forms, including tablets and powder

BENZO FURY, also known as 6-APB, is the most notorious legal high and is widely available in shops or on the internet. It costs as little as £10 and is sold as slim, coloured tablets or as a powder.

5-IT, dubbed He-Man, has flooded the market. It mimics a powerful tranquilliser called methoxetamine (Mexxy), but has been altered slightly to make it lawful. He-Man costs £63 for two 500mg sachets.

BLACK MAMBA, or karma, has been linked to serious health problems. The drug, smoked like cannabis, costs £5.99 a gram and users are left dozy and confused. Other side-effects are delirium, dehydration and vomiting.

MPA, at £15 a gram, is sold as bath salts and emulates Mexxy. Symptoms of the drug, also known as Slush Eric, can include anxiety, paranoia and vomiting.

HEX.TC GOLD is sold on websites that boast it’s a new research chemical. It comes as gold-coloured pellets at £8.

MDAI, also known as Sparkle, is available on the internet. It looks like sparkling white crystal, is low in odour and easily soluble. It has a similar effect to ecstasy and can cause hallucinations and paranoia.

MEPHEDRONE or Meow Meow is one of a group of drugs derived from cathinone, an extract from a plant called khat. It is now banned, classified as a class B drug in 2011. Users have reported heart palpitations, blurred vision and muscle tension. A major concern has been reports that once users start using it in a session it is very hard to stop, leading to insomnia and hallucinations.