Seen as a 'legal high', the future of mephedrone is being debated
A former chief constable of Cambridgeshire has spoken against proposals to ban the drug mephedrone.
Tom Lloyd, from the International Drug Policy Consortium called criminalising drugs a "knee-jerk reaction".
Banning mephedrone would, he claimed, be "ineffective, very costly and counter-productive".
Meanwhile, a survey of Cambridge students found that those who admitted using mephedrone did so because it was cheap, rather than legal.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is an independent expert body that advises government on drug-related issues in the UK.
At a meeting on 29 March 2010 it delivered its advice to the home secretary that mephedrone should be made illegal.
Alan Johnson has now said, that following the council's swift advice, the importation of mephedrone and the chemical compounds associated with it have been banned with immediate effect and the UK Border Agency instructed to seize any shipments.
He expects to introduce legislation in Parliament, and with cross-party support, mephedrone will be banned "within weeks".
Tom Lloyd, from the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), spoke to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire before the ACMD delivered its advice.
He was dubious that the advice given by scientists and medical specialists about the merits or otherwise of banning drugs would be heeded by government.
He said: "We need a bit of breathing space in this debate.
"There's no doubt that everyone agrees mephedrone can be harmful, as can many other drugs, both legal and illegal.
"The knee-jerk reaction, and the overall reaction over the past 40 years, has been to ban drugs."
He said that the consumption of hard drugs had increased during this time and that banning them was not only ineffective but a very costly and counter-productive approach.
"Instead of tackling drug after drug as they appear, what we ought to be doing is looking at why people are taking drugs and trying to give proper education and advice."
He continued: "We ought to be looking at proper grown-up education treating this as a health issue and not a crime issue, and that would release huge police resources to devote towards serious and organised crime.
Lloyd said that the question of mephedrone offered an opportunity to do something different and to take drugs out of the hands of the criminals.
He added: "Let's not go down this same route that we've gone down with the other drugs."
Many mephedrone users see it as a cheap alternative to ecstasy
Keen to find out whether students are regularly using mephedrone, a reporter for a university paper has carried out his own survey in Cambridge.
Jack Rivlin, a journalist for the University of Cambridge's red-top, The Tab, surveyed 1671 students across the university's colleges, together with 500 clubbers in the city.
Of those, eight per cent of students and 25 per cent of clubbers said they had tried mephedrone.
"Students were quite forthcoming about their use of mephedrone - there was a lot of openness," he told BBC Cambridgeshire.
"Most students said that they used it because it was a cheap thrill. Not many of them said that they took it because it was legal.
"The fact that it's legal just meant that it was easier to get than other drugs," he continued.
"But a lot did say that the only reason they use it is because ecstasy is illegal so it provided a cheap and easy-to-get alternative.
"Ironically, ecstasy is being shunned in favour of mephedrone - a drug that nobody knows anything about."
Laura Hutson is the young people's substance misuse co-ordinator for Cambridgeshire's drug and alcohol team.
Working with a number of related social services around the county, she says her team has seen an increase in issues linked to the use of mephedrone.
"It can have similar effects to cocaine in terms of palpitations and the way the blood is pumped around the body.
"The advice we would give is that if you have already taken it and are experiencing anything like that, or any reduced circulation to any part of your body, then you should obviously go and seek help.
"There is no antidote to the drug," she continued, "so if anybody does go to an A&E department they will just be kept calm.
"But really they just have to wait for the chemical to leave the body because we don't really know what that chemical is at the moment.
"The message that we really want to get out is just because it is currently legal does not mean that it's safe in any way, because we still don't know what the long-term effects of this can be on the body."
The drug is often marketed as plant fertilizer, not for human consumption
She added that most cases presenting at hospitals were where mephedrone had been taken in combination with other drugs and/or alcohol.
Early indications also point to regular use being psychologically addictive.
What is mephedrone?
Mephedrone - 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC) - is a stimulant producing feelings of euphoria, alertness, talkativeness and feelings of empathy.
It can also cause anxiety and paranoid states, and risk overstimulating the heart and nervous system to cause fits.
Mephedrone is usually sold on the internet as a legal high and described as a plant food or a research chemical not for human consumption.
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