Shock new report on street drugs prompts call for reform


March 02, 2020

A shock new report that reveals that almost a quarter of street drugs are not what users think they are has prompted a police boss to renew his call for urgent reforms to prevent more drug-related deaths.

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones said the study that was published British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology underlined the need for drugs to be regulated.

Mr Jones, a former police inspector, is writing a letter to the Ministry of Justice asking the Government look at the matter again.

His plea comes after it was revealed that drug-related deaths in the UK are rocketing.

According to the Office of National Statistics, most deaths were due to opiates such as heroin, but cocaine deaths doubled in three years and MDMA deaths were also at their highest ever level.

The most recent available figures revealed that a total of 4,359 in the UK dried due to drug poisoning in 2018 – which was a 16 per cent increase on the figure for 2017.

Deaths from new psychoactive substances - known as "legal highs" until they were banned in 2016 - doubled in a year to 125. MDMA deaths rose from 56 to 92.

In Wales there were 327 drug poising deaths in 2018 which was a 26 per cent increase on the previous year.

Half of the deaths in Wales were caused by opiates and 65 per cent of those who died were men.

Between 2016 and 2018 in North Wales, 98 people died as a result of drug misuse – with the highest number of fatalities in Gwynedd, closely followed by Flintshire.

The rate of drug deaths in the UK was now, said Mr Jones, more than double the European average, and 12 times that of Portugal which decriminalised drug possession in 2001.

“The core problem is supply and demand,” said Prof Fiona Measham, chair in criminology at the University of Liverpool, and director of harm reduction charity The Loop, which conducted the tests which provided the evidence for the study British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology

Drugs sold as MDMA or ecstasy turned out to be n-ethylpentylone which has been linked to overdose deaths, while a substance sold as ketamine was found to be a new psychoactive substance with the chemical name 2-FDCK, a synthetic drug that is about one-and-a-half times more powerful and whose effects lasts for up to three times as long as ketamine.

A small number of submitted samples were associated with “problem drug-use”, including heroin containing paracetamol and caffeine, and a synthetic version of cannabis.

Equally worrying, according to Mr Jones, was what North Wales Police found out at the Gottwood Music Festival on Anglesey when drug testing was carried out in 2018.

It emerged that festival drug users bought potentially harmful cement dust and talcum powder believing them to be recreational substances.

Mr Jones, a former police inspector and long term advocate of drugs reform, said: “Using drugs supplied by organised crime is asking to being offered a bottle of unknown liquid by an unknown person claiming it is vodka when in fact it's pure meths. Would you in all seriousness buy it? This is what faces people who use drugs day in day out, many of whom are poisoned and die unnecessarily.

“The number of people dying on the streets of Wales is a national scandal and it is about time the Government realised it was time for a radical new approach.

“Regulating drugs would mean that there was no longer a risk of playing Russian Roulette with contaminated substances.

“Introducing regular drug testing at pubs, clubs and music festival would be another major step forward.

“It would also be a be blow to the organised crime gangs because it would take the criminality out of the market, allowing the police to concentrate on other important policing priorities.”

It was a sentiment endorsed by Steve Rolles, of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

He said: “As drug-related deaths reach new records, it’s clear that putting our heads in the sand and wishing the problem would go away isn’t good enough. We know that drug-safety testing works. It’s time the government showed some long-absent leadership and got fully behind it.”