Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Schools urge action on legal drug mephedrone

Nicholas Smith and Louis Wainwright
Police said the boys had been out drinking on Monday

Head teachers have called for urgent action over the legal drug mephedrone following the deaths of two teenagers.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) says it has the same dangers as any Class A drug and the government should consider a ban.

Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, died in Scunthorpe on Monday after taking the drug.

The government has asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to examine the dangers and report back.

Plant food

Mephedrone is known by various names, including "M-Cat", "MC", "mieow", "meow", "4MMC" or simply plant fertiliser.

Recreational drug with effects similar to amphetamines and ecstasy
Sold as a white powder, also found in capsules and pills or can be dissolved in a liquid
Often sold online as plant food marked "not for human consumption"
Completely different drug to methadone, which is a pharmaceutical drug typically used as a very strong painkiller or to treat heroin addicts
Reported side-effects include headaches, palpitations, nausea, cold or blue fingers
Long-term effect of taking drug unknown
Currently legal to buy and be in possession of the powder, but against the law to sell, supply or advertise the powder for human consumption under the Medicines Act
Already illegal in Israel, Denmark, Norway and Sweden

It is usually a white or yellowish powder, which is snorted, but can also be obtained in pills and capsules. It is marketed as plant food.

Police made three arrests following the death of the two teenagers.

NAHT general secretary Mick Brookes told the BBC the use of the drug had become more widespread.

He said: "This drug clearly has the same inherent dangers as any Class A drug and I think serious consideration should be given to banning it.

"The problem with that is that you then criminalise the people who take it, so we need to think very carefully about what we do, but act with some speed."

Some heads say the drug should be made illegal immediately - even if it risks some children getting a criminal record.

Schools have become increasingly worried that because the drug is legal, children as young as 12 are trying it.

BBC science correspondent Tom Feilden said the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was asked by the Home Office last year to examine the use of legal highs such as mephedrone.

A sub-committee was set up to do just that, and was due to report back this month, our correspondent added.

Is it too easy to buy a 'legal high'? (first broadcast Dec 2009)

However, the work of the committee on legal highs stopped following the dismissal of its chief drugs adviser Professor David Nutt last October. He was sacked after publicly disagreeing with the government's decision to reclassify cannabis as a Class B drug and not to downgrade ecstasy.

Five ACMD members then resigned in the row that followed Prof Nutt's departure.

Club scene

Websites selling the drug have told their customers it is a case of "when" not "if" mephedrone will be banned.

The two teenagers who died were found collapsed at their homes after a night out in Scunthorpe.

Humberside Police said the drug appeared to have contributed to their deaths. They had been out drinking in the hours before their deaths.

Head teacher Mike Stewart: 'We need help'

Two men, aged 26 and 20, and a 17-year-old boy have been arrested in connection with the incident.

Post-mortem examinations are being carried out.

The substance has become popular on the UK club scene in recent months.

Its side effects are said to include psychosis, palpitations, burning throat, nosebleeds and insomnia.

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Telegraph Mephedrone Q - 42 mins ago
Channel 4 News Drugs advisors will consider M-CAT ban 'within weeks' - 5 hrs ago
The Independent The Big Question: Should legal-high drugs such as mephedrone now be made illegal? - 8 hrs ago
News of the World Grieving dad's "legal high" drug warning - 8 hrs ago
Reuters UK Calls grow for ban on "legal high" clubbers' drug - 16 hrs ago

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