Efforts to ban mephedrone delayed by sacking of top drugs adviser

Efforts to ban the legal high mephedrone linked to the deaths of two teenagers were delayed by the labour Government’s sacking of its top drugs adviser, it has emerged.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was asked last year to report on the dangers of the substance, which is also known by its street name “miaow miaow”.

But drugs charities said that the report had been “extremely” delayed by the departure of Professor David Nutt, the ACMD chairman, who was sacked by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, last October for criticising the Government’s cannabis policy.

The report, which is now due on March 29, is expected to recommend a ban on mephedrone which can currently be bought legally as plant fertiliser.

Niamh Eastwood of Release, the drugs law charity, said: “There are a number of things that have been delayed in relation to the sacking and I think this report was delayed by about eight weeks.

“Our position is that scientists should be able to express their opinions without fear of being sacked, and the labour Government’s decision to sack Professor Nutt did a lot of damage to the ACMD.”

The ACMD wrote to the Government promising to report on the dangers of mephedrone last September, before Professor Nutt was sacked.

In a letter dated December 22 2009, Les Iverson, Prof Nutt’s successor as chairman of the panel, said he still planned to report to the Government “at the earliest possible opportunity” despite “the difficulties of the last two months”.

Pressure on the Government to outlaw mephedrone has intensified after headteachers called for action on the dangerous drug which has been linked to the deaths of four people.

Louis Wainwright and Nicholas Smith, both 19, took mephedrone – a legal stimulant sold as plant food – before collapsing. The substance can be bought on the internet for £4 and is known on the street as “miaow miaow”.

There have been two previous deaths in Britain linked to the drug which is illegal in other European countries including Norway, Germany and Finland.

Headteachers this morning joined calls for the Government to consider outlawing the substance.

Mick Brooks, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told the BBC: “This drug clearly has the same inherent dangers as any Class A drug and I think serious consideration should be given to banning it.

“The problem with that is that you then criminalise the people who take it, so we need to think very carefully about what we do, but act with some speed.”

Dr David Wood, consultant clinical toxicologist at Guys and St Thomas’s hospital, said the dangers of the drug were clear.

“We know that it’s a stimulant drug similar to cocaine, amphetamine or MDMA,” he told Radio 4’s Today Programme.

“We’re already seeing patients coming in with significant acute effects like agitation, anxiety, fast heart rates and high blood pressure. There have been reports of patients having seizures and fits like epileptic fits.”

Dr Wood said the drug is also similar to the active component of Khat, the hallucinogenic plant leaf chewed by members of some Somalian communities.

Police are questioning three people over the deaths of the two teenagers who died after taking the drug this week.

On Monday, police were called to Mr Wainwright’s home in the village of Winteringham, where he was pronounced dead.

They were later called to a remote farmhouse in Winterton, the home of Mr Smith, a promising chef who worked at the Winteringham Fields restaurant. Mr Smith’s father Tony, a retired fireman, said his son was not a “druggie”.

Detectives fear the teenagers were killed by a contaminated batch of mephedrone. They have warned anyone with the group or at the same venues who had taken the drug recently to go to a hospital.

Their alleged supplier is under arrest in hospital and a woman was admitted for examination. Two men have been arrested on suspicion of supplying controlled drugs.


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