Page last updated at 14:14 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

'Action' on mephedrone pledged by Gordon Brown

Drugs experts liken mephedrone to amphetamines

Ministers will take "immediate action" to ban mephedrone if advisers recommend outlawing the legal high, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told MPs.

The government's chief drugs adviser has indicated that it could soon be classified as a Class B drug.

In the House of Commons, the prime minister said he was "very concerned" about the dangers presented by the substance and would act swiftly.

It comes as the drug has been linked to the deaths of a number of young people.

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

Concern over its effects has grown after two friends, Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, died in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, last week after taking mephedrone.

Since then a number of other deaths have been investigated to see if they are connected to the drug, including that of 24-year-old Lois Waters, who died in Norton, in North Yorkshire, on Monday.

On Tuesday, the government's chief drugs adviser strongly indicated the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will recommend that the substance be banned.

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 effects 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

Professor Les Iversen said he expected the panel would make a recommendation to the home secretary next Monday.

He said he believed mephedrone was "harmful".

On Wednesday, during prime minister's question time, Mr Brown said: "We are committed to preventing young people from starting to take drugs.

"The advice is clear that just because the substance is legal it doesn't make it safe.

"But we are very concerned specifically about the harms of mephedrone, and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is considering this and similar compounds as an absolute priority."

He said "immediate action" would be taken after advice was taken from the ACMD on 29 March.

The prime minister said the government was "determined to act to prevent this evil hurting the young people of this country".

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

Prof Iversen has said it was his personal view as a pharmacologist that mephedrone and other related drugs were "amphetamines by another name".

Amphetamines are currently classified as Class B drugs and possession can carry a jail term of up to five years or an unlimited fine or even both, while dealing can result in a prison term of up to 14 years.

Opposition ministers have also criticised the length of time it has taken for a review of the drug to take place, although websites selling the drug have told their customers it is a case of "when" not "if" mephedrone will be banned.

And some campaigners have called for the use of emergency banning powers to tackle the threat from legal highs.

They have suggested the use of US-style laws banning all legal highs for a year while scientists assess their dangers.

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