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There are calls again this morning for the urgent reclassification of mephedrone.

This is a very interesting problem because it sits right on the fault line of a crucial addiction debate.

On the one hand you have people who think that if drugs are illegal it will send a clear message to young people that they will then head and avoid the risks of taking dangerous drugs. This is partly true. Availability and cost do seem to effect consumption. Alcohol pricing seems to correlate to consumption and so cheaper and more available alcohol is argued to cause more problems. In the same way, if we make a drug like mephedrone harder to get hold of and more expensive then we will reduce the overall consumption. However this approach won’t stop people experimenting and it won’t stop addiction problems. In some ways these sorts of measures also have the effect of simply moving the target. For example, I wonder if it is only a coincidence that cannabis has recently been reclassified back up the scale of illegality and here we see the rise in the use of other “legal” highs?

On the other hand if they do successfully make mephedrone “illegal”, won’t people looking to escape reality just simply move to the next “legal” high? And won’t the group of people habituated to mephedrone now be criminalised if they continue with it? This is the other side of the fault line. We need to ask why do we have so many people trying to escape reality? Is it the culmination of years of a lack of treatment strategy that has led to this explosion of people finding so many ways to change their moods? In the recent NTA analysis of cocaine users it was found that the number of 18-25 year olds who have tried cocaine has risen from 9% in 2005 to 18% in 2010. Cocaine is a class A drug and yet we are now finding that in this younger group nearly 1/5 has already tried it? So much for criminalisation being the solution. I doubt it is a coincidence that PROMIS had to close 18 specialised treatment beds for young people and the only other significant provider, Middle Gate Lodge, also closed all of it’s beds for young people this month. There are now no significant specialist providers of treatment for young people after years of neglect of residential services.

The government has been right that legislation alone can’t hold back the tide of addiction problems, but if there is so little being done to help people recover from these problems, then it is no wonder we have an epidemic on our hands.

There are no easy answers to these problems but is seems to me we really have a tidal wave of a problem coming up from the youngsters in society and we have no services left to help them and in incoherent and inconsistent strategy from the DOH.

Robin Lefever

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