Belfast Telegraph

Why our drugs policies are just (cat)astrophic

By Lindy McDowell

Meow-meow, miaow, Cat, 4MMC, Mkat, meph.the drug mephedrone has more nicknames than a busload of loyalist paramilitaries.

Since it hasn’t (yet) been banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it falls into the category “legal highs”.

But since it is also illegal, under the Medicines Act, to sell it for human consumption it is commonly marketed on the internet and in certain outlets as “plant food.”

Despite this latter description, it will do nothing for your begonias. Mephedrone won’t do your health a whole lot of good either.

Side effects are said to range from headaches and nausea through to heart and blood pressure problems, depression and memory loss. And worse

At least two deaths have recently been linked to the drug. In Northern Ireland where there is evidence of its increasing popularity it’s reported that children as young as 12 have been taking the drug.

At the time when our elected leaders are united in their anxiety about youthful ingestion of the likes of Turkey Twizzlers and yellow food colouring you might think the concern about this stuff and its ready availability would be white hot.

Not so. It will be “later this year” before the government comes up with a decision on whether or not to ban it.

Meanwhile, back in Belfast, a snapshot of local drug abuse comes from a recent court hearing where one distraught mother described to the judge how “half the teenagers of north Belfast are on drugs”.

The comments came during a case involving a young man addicted to prescription drugs, but that mother’s comments could be extended to apply to drug misuse in most working class areas of the city and, indeed, of Northern Ireland. While our elected representatives continue to obsess over the question of national identity a whole generation has been getting out of it. Literally.

Organisations (many of them voluntary or poorly resourced) have been doing their best at street level to stem the seemingly unstoppable tide of drug abuse.

But through absolutely no fault of the aforementioned, the overall strategy is uncoordinated and limited.

What makes the problem worse in Northern Ireland is the involvement of paramilitaries. A bit like farmers who opted to “diversify” when the recession hit livestock prices, the gangster/paramilitaries now throw themselves with gusto into the trade in illicit pharmaceuticals (a business most have had connections with for years.)

Their criminal networks and muscle haven’t exactly been drawbacks in maximising profits.

Occasionally you might have cause to be heartened by reports of impressive drugs seizures by the cops (and credit where credit is due, they have been impressive).

But the sad fact is that these enormous seizures reflect the extent of the problem as much as they reflect the success of the constabulary.

How do we ever get on top of this? One suggestion is for drugs — or at least some “softer” substances like cannabis — to be legalised.

Would legalising all drugs make a difference, by handing, as it would, supply to state, regulated bodies? Who knows?

But the current disjointed approach which allows easy availability to mephedrone — an obviously dodgy substance, banned by a number of other European countries — sends a distorted message.

Understandably many teens translate its “legal” status as meaning the stuff is safe.

Whatever you choose to call it, how long before Kat becomes catastrophe?

Belfast Telegraph

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