Earlier today I pressed the Government over the dangers of Mephedrone which has sadly been hitting the headlines after the deaths of two teenagers thought to have taken the drug. Whilst the Government are now seemingly rushing to take action, the issue of these synthetic drugs being sold online has been clear for some time. The ACMD wrote to the Home Secretary before Christmas highlighting the public health concerns surrounding Mephedrone. Moreover, it was suggested in one press report today that the Home Office had been warned of the potential risks in a report five years ago. The Home Office Minister Meg Hillier sought to dismiss this suggestion during today's Home Office questions by saying that the report was non-specific and was simply a long-term forward look of potential problems in emerging drug habits. But surely this sort of advice is intended to promote proactive rather than reactive policy which we are now seeing?
It is clear that there is a need to reform the drug classification laws to provide for a holding category for new drugs where emerging patterns of use and initial assessments of the likely physiological impact or addictiveness highlight potential public health concerns. This temporary classification would last for a maximum period of twelve months to allow a full examination of the drug to be conducted and for the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to provide their input and advice on the longer term policy approach to the drug. This would provide a practical, speedy response to emerging drug risks, enabling public health alerts to be provided whilst also controlling supply without obviating the need for expert assessment to inform longer term policy.
The Minister today said that the ACMD was considering Mephedrone and the other related cathinone drugs in "its normal timescales". The sad reality is that with the pace of drug development and new distribution channels via the internet this timescale isn't fast enough. A Home Office official was quoted over the weekend as saying that should the ACMD recommend that Mephedrone be classified this change would be implemented by the end of the year. It is reminiscent of the 18 month delay from the ACMD recommending the classification of GBL (Gamma Butyrolactone) to the passing of the necessary law making order. This just isn't good enough and the current rigid requirements for the drug classification approval process look as if they are part of the problem. This needs to change.