Deaths report reflects growing impact of lethal ‘legal highs’

The deadly risk of so-called ‘legal highs’ and other designer drugs, such as the notorious ‘meow meow’, has been confirmed by a huge leap in their links to drug-related deaths in the UK.

Deaths report reflects growing impact of lethal ‘legal highs’

12 February 2014

The deadly risk of so-called ‘legal highs’ and other designer drugs, such as the notorious ‘meow meow’, has been confirmed by a huge leap in their links to drug-related deaths in the UK.

One expert described experimentation with such drugs as ‘dancing in a minefield’.

‘Meow meow’, officially known as mephedrone and now illegal, is just one of a group of drugs called Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS),  which also includes the amphetamine-like substances Benzo Fury and PMA, amongst others.

According to data published in the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths (NPSAD) report, compiled by experts at St George’s, University of London, NPS are now linked to more drug-related deaths than ever before.

The prevalence of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology tests submitted to the report has increased 800% in three years, from 12 in 2009 to 97 in 2012.

The number of cases where NPS were identified as the cause of death rose by almost 600% during the same period – from 10 deaths in 2009 to 68 in 2012.

In many cases traces of multiple NPS were found, suggesting that drug users are experimenting with combinations of these drugs, as well as alcohol in some cases.

These drugs have undergone little or no human testing so their health effects are virtually unknown.

Professor Fabrizio Schifano, spokesman for NPSAD, said: “We have observed an increase in the number and range of these drugs in the post mortem toxicology results and in the cause of death of cases notified to us.

“These include amphetamine-type substances, dietary supplements, ketamine derivatives, among a host of others.

“The worrying trend is that these type of drugs are showing up more than ever before. Clearly this is a major public health concern and we must continue to monitor this worrying development.

“Those experimenting with such substances are effectively dancing in a minefield.”

The report also indicates an increase in the proportion of deaths involving stimulants such as cocaine and ecstasy-type drugs, following a decline in 2009 and stabilisation in 2010.

In total, the number of drug-related deaths reported to the NPSAD during 2012 was 1,613.

Opiates/opioids such as heroin and morphine, alone or in combination with other drugs continued to account for the highest proportion (36%) of reported drug-related deaths in 2012, a 4% increase compared to 2011  - a reversal of the decline in such deaths observed in recent years.

Regional Highlights:

Hammersmith one of worst areas in UK for drug-related deaths, says report

New figures reveal that Hammersmith and Fulham recorded one of the highest drug-related death rates across the country in 2012 with 11.34 deaths per 100,000 population.

Only Liverpool (12.57) and Blackburn with Darwen (11.45) were higher.

The type of drugs related to deaths in London also drew a strong contrast to some other parts of England. As in 2011, London had the highest proportion of cocaine-related deaths in the country (15.2%), contrasting greatly with other regions, such as the Midlands and East of England where cocaine was implicated in just 3.4% of drug-related deaths.

However, it is important to note that when taking into account absolute figures, Liverpool alone had more deaths involving cocaine, which was 20, than the whole of the following regions: Midlands and East of England; London; and the South of England.

Liverpool overtakes Manchester with highest rates of drug-related deaths in the North West, reveals new report

The number of drugs-related deaths in Liverpool has risen above those in Manchester for the first time since 2006 according to a new study.

For the first time in over five years there were more drug-related deaths in Liverpool, which saw 49 such cases, compared to Manchester with 36.

The report, compiled by researchers at St George’s, University of London, also found that Liverpool alone had more deaths linked to cocaine than the whole of the Midlands and East of England region, London and the South of England.

Drugs deaths in Northern Ireland buck wider UK trend of lethal heroin use

Deaths related to drugs in Northern Ireland show a marked difference from the rest of the UK as fatalities are mostly linked to prescription drugs, says a new report.

Whereas the vast majority of drug-related deaths in the UK are linked to opiates such as heroin and morphine, in the province most relate to other drugs.

The new research from St George’s, University of London, also shows a small decrease in the overall number of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland. There were 78 such deaths in 2012 as opposed to 82 in 2011.

Northern Ireland contrasts the rest of the UK with higher proportions of deaths attributed to drugs such as tramadol, benzodiazepines and anti-depressants. Northern Ireland also displayed a substantially lower proportion of deaths attributed to heroin/morphine and methadone than other regions of the UK, such as the South of England, the midlands and London.

Notes to Editors

Read the full National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths report by the International Centre for Drug Policy at St George’s, University of London here

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