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   May 21

Doctors ‘powerless’ to treat UK users of legal highs

The “unprecedented” spread of legal highs has left doctors struggling to treat UK users of the drugs, the United Nations has warned.

The UN said medical staff were “powerless” to help people when they couldn’t identify what they had taken.

Users are taking new psychoactive substances without knowing exactly what’s in them, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

Others buy what they think are more common substances but are then duped.

The UN said some people were told they were being given MDMA or ecstasy but were in fact being sold one of the new designer drugs.

Doctors then cannot give the right medical attention if users fall ill because they don’t know what drug they are supposed to be treating.

The latest official UK figures show 68 deaths were linked to legal highs in 2012, up from 10 in 2009.

The government held a legal highs summit earlier this year, after describing their manufacture and sale as a “very serious issue”.

Earlier this month a group of more than 20 UK music festivals including T in the Park and Bestival banned the sale of legal highs by traders.

Synthetic drugs researcher Natascha Eichinger said: “The danger here is people are consuming new psychoactive substances without knowing that they’re doing so.

“So once these people have severe health issues and they wish to receive treatment they don’t actually know what they’ve taken.

“The treatment and treatment centres have huge difficulty in dealing with this issue because they can’t actually appropriately treat the user in this case, because the user doesn’t actually know what they’ve taken.”

The UN report said 348 legal highs had been identified in more than 90 countries since 2008.

Of these 348, 97 were identified in the last year.

Researchers suggested the number could be much higher as the figure only takes into account official sources.

The UNODC warned that young people were particularly likely to take legal highs, while the UK government has previously claimed they are marketed to children with brightly-coloured packaging and in some cases were available from ice-cream vans.

It also said that none of the 348 drugs were under international control, making it harder for them to be policed.

The UK is the only country to have asked for international control of Mephedrone, also known as meow meow, which was classified as a class B drug in 2010.

The UNODC said, according to a survey done by dance magazine Mixmag and The Guardian since the classification came in, use of Mephedrone has decreased.

The poll found that the number of respondents using the drug dropped from 51% in 2010 to 19.5% in 2011.

However, another survey carried out at two London clubs showed that 52% of those asked used Mephedrone annually.

Cocaine was the most used drug at 59% and cannabis was third on 48%, the UNODC said.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, director for policy analysis and public affairs at UNODC, said: “New substances are quickly created and marketed, challenging law enforcement efforts to keep up with the traffickers and curb public health risks.”

Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said: “The coalition government is determined to clamp down on the reckless trade in what are somewhat inaccurately called legal highs, which has tragically claimed the lives of far too many young people in our country.

“Hundreds of substances previously sold as legal highs are now controlled drugs in the UK, mainly thanks to our use of generic legislation.

“I have also commissioned a review to consider how best we can combat this dangerous trade and ensure those involved in breaking the law are brought to justice.”

Source: BBC

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