Rise in 'club drug' health problems
Drugs services have reported a rise in people coming to them with health problems caused by taking the banned substance mephedrone, with some heavy users injecting it more than 20 times a day.
A survey by DrugScope found that the issue was not confined to existing heroin and crack users or those in the club scene, but teenagers who were suffering psychological problems.
Mephedrone, a powerful stimulant drug with various street names such as meow meow, MCAT and bubble, first came to public attention in 2009. It was banned in 2010.
The organisation said a particularly worrying trend was in those who admitted to compulsive injecting of the drug - in some cases more than 20 times a day - by those who had never previously injected drugs or who had been successfully reducing or stopping their use of other drugs.
Similar developments in Ireland have required some users to undergo plastic surgery to repair skin damage to arms, it said.
The DrugScope annual survey compiles and analyses feedback from drug services, police forces, drug action teams and service user groups across 20 towns and cities to provide a snapshot of the drug scene in the UK, both in patterns of use and average national prices for drugs.
It found that increasing numbers of teenagers were coming forward with behavioural problems associated with using the drug, such as panic attacks, paranoia and general loss of control.
DrugScope's chief executive Martin Barnes said: "All the indicators of drug use in the UK show an overall decline, with more people recovering following drug treatment. But as our survey shows, there is no room for complacency on this. With the arrival of drugs such as mephedrone and the whole array of synthetic cannabis compounds and other new drugs, we may well have a drug scene in transition."
Mr Barnes said that the rise in injecting mephedrone was "especially worrying" and led to an increased risk of blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis C, which already affects more than 40% of injecting drug users.
He added: "With so many serious problems now related to mephedrone use, to continue to describe it as a 'party' or 'club drug' risks downplaying the harms associated with its use."