Sudden deaths reveal lows behind illegal and legal highs
LAST weekend, a charity worker went out to enjoy a night partying with friends in Manchester. He never came home.
And earlier this year, after spending a Saturday night socialising with pals, a man and a woman were found dead in Bolton — leaving devastated families trying to come to terms with their loss.
There have been a total of 12 recreational drug-related deaths reported across the North since the beginning of the year, including Emma Johnson, aged 21, found dead at a friend’s home in Farnworth and Chris Goodwin, aged 30, who died at a house in Tonge Moor.
The pair had been out in Bolton, in April, and it is believed they had taken a potentially contaminated batch of drugs, including amphetamines and a synthetic powder stimulant known as bubble, a former legal high which the government banned in April, 2010.
On Sunday, Michael Marshall, aged 38, died minutes after smoking "legal high" Psyclone at a friend's flay in Heaton.
Dr Chris Moulton, consultant in emergency medicine at the Royal Bolton Hospital, said: “We’re continuing to see the use of illicit drugs, but what has changed is that we are now seeing people who have taken synthesised drugs and strange mixtures of drugs and other substances.
“These not only make them more toxic but are harder to treat.”
The recent death of Nick Bonnie, aged 30, a manager for young people's charity The Prince's Trust, at The Warehouse Project in Manchester, has prompted directors to speak out about a new drugs testing initiative to be trialled at the superclub, in conjunction with the Home Office and charity The Loop.
On October 12, The Warehouse Project will test suspected illegal substances seized on the premises in a laboratory set up within a trailer at the venue in Trafford.
Warnings will then be sent out via social media about what they contain.
Sacha Lord-Marchionne, who set up the annual series of club nights with co-director Sam Kandel in 2006, said: “Obviously all drugs are dangerous but we want to find out exactly what is in them.
“At the moment, it’s so wide and varied what’s out there. A 14-year-old can go on the internet and purchase something. It’s to establish exactly what’s going on in the market.”
Mr Bonnie, from Stroud in Gloucestershire, died after taking a drug, thought to be ecstasy, and Greater Manchester Police issued a warning of a suspected “particularly bad batch” of drugs in circulation after a number of others were admitted to hospital from the venue, following its opening night last Friday.
Medics have reported an increase in the number of cases involving PMA, similar to MDMA — the chemical in ecstasy — but which, according to drugs charity Frank, is more poisonous and can kill at lower doses.
Dave Mylett, director of Manchester Medical Services, said: “The symptoms we’re finding, not just at Warehouse Project, we are finding a lot of people taking PMA.
“It causes your temperature to rise quickly which unfortunately happened to Nick Bonnie. You need to get to hospital and get rapid cooling.”
Some pressure groups in the UK have called for testing stalls at clubs where people can have drugs analysed before taking them, as is currently the practice in some Dutch venues.
Mr Lord-Marchionne said: “Whether or not it’s something we would support is up for debate because it’s then condoning the use of drugs which we do not.
“We know it goes on in other countries, we know it’s successful.”
According to the Office for National statistics, there were 1,706 male drug poisoning deaths — involving both legal and illegal drugs — registered in 2012, a four per cent decrease since 2011.
Female drug poisoning deaths have increased every year since 2009, reaching 891 in 2012.
In England, the North West had the highest mortality rate from drug misuse in 2012 with 41 deaths per million.
HOW MANUFACTURERS GET AROUND THE LAW
- Legal highs are substances used like illegal drugs, such as cocaine or cannabis, but not covered by current misuse of drugs laws and so legal to possess or to use.
- According to the NHS, the chemicals they contain have, in most cases, never been used in drugs for human consumption before so have not been tested to show that they are safe.
- Many drugs that were previously sold as legal highs are now controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, including mephedrone (bubble/meow meow), naphyrone, BZP, GBL and synthetic cannabinoids.
- The market for legal highs has grown in the past decade with a multitude of substances now on sale online or in high-street “head shops”.
- They cannot be sold for human consumption so they are often sold as bath salts or plant food to get round the law.
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