Prescription drug misuse growing
Misuse of two prescription drugs typically used to treat epilepsy, pain or anxiety has been significantly increased, a survey has shown.
Pregabalin and gabapentin, which are being commonly used alongside other drugs, including alcohol and opiates such as heroin, are easily available on the illicit market in 25mg to 800mg capsules, changing hands for between 50p and £2.
Drug workers told the UK Street Drug Survey by charity DrugScope that users have displayed extreme intoxication and risky behaviours while on the drugs.
Deaths involving pregabalin and gabapentin are on the rise. The Office for National Statistics told DrugScope that pregabalin and gabapentin were mentioned on 41 death certificates in 2013.
Last September, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Government's drug adviser, warned pregabalin cannot be banned because patients need it.
The charity also raised concern about rising drug-related deaths after findings from the survey suggest that many of the key risk factors have been heightened in 2014, including the purity of drugs.
Data published by the ONS revealed that 1,957 drug misuse deaths were registered in 2013, up 20% on the figure for 2012, and deaths related to heroin or morphine, the substances most commonly involved in drug poisoning deaths, rose 32%.
DrugScope chief executive Marcus Roberts said its members are awaiting regulatory changes to allow new treatments for opiate addiction to combat the rise of fatalities linked to its use.
He said: "Coupled with substantial rises in ecstasy deaths and the challenges posed by new psychoactive substances in recent years, there is clearly much work to do in continuing to warn people about the dangers of drug taking. We need to continue to do all we can to reduce the harms that drugs cause."
Elsewhere, the survey showed the street-level purity of cocaine, ecstasy and heroin has gone up significantly in most areas covered by the survey.
Falling wholesale drug prices that have enabled Class A suppliers to improve their product in the face of competition from cheap, yet potent, new psychoactive substances are behind the shift in purity, Drugscope said.
The purity of cocaine, ecstasy and heroin has doubled and tripled in the last year in some areas, the survey found.
In Bristol, police said cocaine purity jumped from an average of 10% in 2013 to 30% in 2014, while heroin had risen from an average purity of 10-15% to 20-25%.
Police in Liverpool said cocaine had risen from a single-figure average to 25% and heroin from 25% to 40%.