Preparing for the next drug problem

Tragically, the drug Mephedrone has been dominating the headlines over the last few weeks. The so called 'legal high' has been linked to the deaths of a number of people. Focus has rightly been placed on public health concerns and controls applied to the drug and moves to classify the drug are welcome. It seems that many young people are making the mistake that because it's legal they think it's safe. It isn't with the chemistry of Mephedrone being similar to that of an amphetamine.

What has also been disturbing has been the way in which it is being sold. Rather than being offered by the drug dealer down a dark ally, Mephedrone is being sold openly over the internet as 'plant food' or other absurd descriptions in order to subvert medicines control legislation.

Despite movement in the last few days, the Government has been slow to act with some suggestions that the risks attached to this new breed of drug were telegraphed as long as five years ago. At the very least, the prevalence of Mephedrone on the club scene has been known about for many months and the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs flagged their concerns with the Home Secretary during the course of 2009.

What's clear to me is that the current system for responding to new and emerging drugs just isn't up to scratch in the internet age. We need a speedier mechanism to respond to new drugs intended for human consumption (however they may be marketed).

Conservatives would reform the drugs laws to provide a new temporary classification to enable controls on sale and supply to be applied where significant public health concerns are raised about a new substance. This would apply for a period of up to one year and would allow time for expert input and analysis to be provided to inform decisions on whether a formal classification should be made or not whilst addressing safety risks. It would also enable appropriate public health alerts to be given in a structured manner.

We need to learn from the tragic loss of life linked to this latest drug. What is clear is that, sadly, there will be many more of its kind which will follow.