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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Is meth abuse a UK problem?
By Emma Wilkinson
BBC News, health reporter

Methamphetamine is available in some nightclubs and bars
The use of methamphetamine - commonly known as "crystal meth" or "ice" - could be spreading in the UK.

It gives users a huge rush followed by a long-lasting feeling of euphoria, but it also causes paranoia, confusion and violence, is highly addictive when smoked and can lead to brain damage and severe psychiatric problems.

In an attempt to limit the potential for harm, the government recently reclassified methamphetamine as a class A drug - which means it is easier for experts to monitor its use.

And pharmacies may be banned from selling some cold common medicines which contain ingredients that can be used to "cook up" methamphetamine in kitchen laboratories, the government has said.

So is the UK on the brink of a new drug abuse epidemic?

Increasing reports

Evidence produced by drug charity, Coca, certainly suggests use of the drug is spreading.

As part of their online Methamphetamine Watch, Coca received 56 reports from drug clinicians - or users - from England, Wales and Scotland.

What was once a drug limited to London nightclubs has now been reported in many towns including Torquay, Luton, Sunderland and Huddersfield.

We are seeing increased rates and more geographical locations
Tony D'Agostino, Coca

Most respondents to the survey said most people were smoking crystal meth - the most dangerous and addictive form of the drug.

As well as being available in bars and clubs, it is also reportedly available through crack and amphetamine markets for 35-75 a gram.

Worryingly, the survey, which began in 2005, indicated users were suffering a wide range of mental health problems as well as heart problems and weight loss.

Tony D'Agostino, from Coca, said: "We are seeing increased rates and more geographical locations - cities and rural areas.

"It's definitely there and it's backed up by what the police are finding."

He also warned problems may not yet be fully apparent, as it took several years for crack cocaine users to access treatment services - by which time the drug had become established.

International experience

Simon Bray, methamphetamine lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said they were determined to stop the drug getting a "firm foothold in the UK".

"Meth does not yet appear to be an established problem in the UK but, having examined the experience of other countries, there is every possibility that use of the drug could increase," he added.

In the US, methamphetamine abuse is a huge problem, most notably in rural areas, with an estimated 12 million Americans having tried the drug at some point.

We're trying to monitor it what people think they are taking and we hope we can get some more forensic intelligence
Professor David Nutt

New Zealand and Australia have also suffered steep rises in use.

A 2004 report from the New Zealand Police Force reported the drug was easily available, was linked to domestic violence and crime, and was being used by a greater cross-section of society than previously thought.

Users were also starting to inject methamphetamine.

In 2005, the US Government introduced legislation to restrict pharmacy sales of cold medicines after methamphetamine laboratories were found in homes, cars, hotel rooms, and storage facilities.

Risky sex

Dr John Ramsey, toxicologist at St Georges Hospital in London, said he did not think methamphetamine would take off in the UK as it had in other countries because of widespread use of cocaine and amphetamine or 'speed'.

Dr Ramsey runs a drug identification database and analyses the contents of drug amnesty boxes in nightclubs around the country.

"In the course of doing that we have been looking for the occurrence of methamphetamine, but we don't see it.

"There have maybe been two samples in 5,000."

Professor David Nutt, professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol and chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said there was the beginning of a problem in the UK and they wanted to "nip it in the bud".

"We're trying to monitor what people think they are taking, and we hope we can get some more forensic intelligence."

He added that countries in South East Asia had seen an increase in amphetamine related psychoses and in the US, as well as widespread problems of violence, use of the drug also lead to increasing problems with risky sexual behaviour.

Dr Linda Harris works at a drug treatment centre in Wakefield and is director of the Royal College of GPs Substance Misuse unit.

She said methamphetamine had not "come under her radar" yet but the government were right to take preventive action.

"With the heroin and cocaine explosion we didn't really win those races. I would like to think we could avoid that happening again."

Rural US gripped by meth epidemic
06 Jul 05 |  Americas
Methamphetamine scourge
15 Jun 04 |  Asia-Pacific
US warns of 'global meth threat'
10 May 06 |  Americas

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