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Deaths from legal highs soar 80 per cent in just one year with one person every week dying from the party drugs
52 people died from 'legal highs' last year, up from just 29 in 2011 Most popular drugs such as mephedrone and 'Benzo Fury' are now banned
By Hugo Gye and Damien Gayle PUBLISHED: 14:57 GMT, 28 August 2013 | UPDATED: 00:01 GMT, 29 August 2013

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Deaths involving legal highs increased by 80 per cent last year to one every week. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show fatalities relating to the psychoactive substances rose from 29 in 2011 to 52 in 2012 compared to 22 in 2010. Drugs such as 'meow meow', 'Black Mamba' and 'Benzo Fury' were all legal when they were first produced, but have since been outlawed.

Danger: 'Legal highs' such as mephedrone killed 52 people in England and Wales last year

However, banning the substances has had no effect on the number of deaths they have caused, which increased from 29 in 2011 to 52 in 2012, according to the Office for National Statistics. Among legal highs, deaths involving a substance called cathinone tripled from six in 2011 to 18 in 2012. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advises the Government on whether a drug should be banned or reclassified. This process led to new synthetic cannabinoids - such as those sold under the name Black Mamba - and methoxetamine, sold as 'Mexxy', being made Class B drugs last year.

Deaths: Alex Herriot, left, died at a festival in Scotland last year while Adam Hunt, right, collapsed and died this month; both had taken synthetic party drugs

And in June this year, NBOMe and Benzo Fury, two groups of legal highs, were banned for 12 months using a temporary class drug order after advice from the ACMD. The best-known 'legal high' is mephedrone, known as 'MCAT' or 'meow meow', which was banned in 2010 but is still widely used as a party drug.

Casualty: 20-year-old Aimee Costello died after taking mephedrone on a night out last year

Among those who died last year after taking synthetic drugs was Alex Herriot, a 19-year-old who collapsed at a music festival in Scotland in June soon after taking Benzo Fury. Another was 20-year-old Aimee Costello, who died following a night out during which she snorted MCAT given to her by friends A 15-year-old boy, Ben O'Neill, raped a pensioner in August after consuming a cocktail of vodka and mephedrone. The fatalities continued this year, as just this month football-loving teenager Adam Hunt died after he took a legal high called AMT which was imported from the Netherlands. In its bulletin on deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales in 2012, the ONS also revealed the number of deaths involving painkiller tramadol has more than doubled since 2008 to 175 in 2012. 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, the ONS said.

The number of male drug misuse deaths involving illegal drugs decreased by nine per cent from 1,192 in 2011 to 1,086 in 2012, while female deaths decreased by one per cent from 413 in 2011 to 410 in 2012. The highest mortality rate from drug misuse was in 30- to 39-year-olds, at 97.8 and 28.9 deaths per million population for males and females respectively in 2012. The number of deaths involving heroin or morphine fell slightly in 2012 to 579 deaths, but these remain the substances most commonly involved in drug poisoning deaths, the ONS said. Regionally, mortality rates from drug misuse were significantly higher in Wales than in England in 2012, at 45.8 and 25.4 deaths per million population respectively. In England, the North West had the highest mortality rate from drug misuse in 2012 at 41.0 deaths per million population.

THE RISE OF LEGAL HIGHS FEEDING BRITAIN'S HUNGER FOR DRUGS

Popular: Legal highs have become a massive industry feeding Britain's hunger for psychoactive substances

Legal highs have always been available in some form or another, with partygoers long using freely available substances like amyl nitrate and nitrous oxide to get a fix. However, the recent explosion in legal high use came with the rise in popularity of a class of drugs known as cathinones, particularly mephedrone, from 2007 onwards. The drug, which is chemically similar to compounds found in the khat plant of eastern Africa, became popular among clubbers as a more easily available - and legal - replacement for MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy tablets. The effects of the substance have been likened to a combination of MDMA, amphetamine and cocaine. It is said to have the euphoric effects of ecstasy, but with the short-lived hit of a line of coke. Mephedrone's popularity gave rise to a whole new market for legal highs sold over the internet and when the substance was finally banned in 2010 a range of other novel synthesised drugs had sprung up to take its place. Many of them were produced by laboratories in China and bought and imported by entrepreneurs using popular wholesale websites like Alibaba.com. However their purity was difficult to ascertain.

One legal drug which followed mephedrone in rising to popularity was 6-APB, known commonly as Benzo Fury. A molecule of the same phenethylamine class as MDMA, it marked a fresh attempt by enterprising chemists to circumvent drugs laws by slightly changing the chemical makeup of popular drugs. Those attempts have now turned into a cat and mouse game with legislators, with chemists synthesising new substances faster them Parliament can ban them, spawning a whole industry to feed Britain's hunger for mind-altering substances. However, unlike drugs which have been around for years and for which risks are generally well known, the long term - and indeed short term - risks many of these new substances are still a mystery.

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Comments (79)
Newest Oldest Best rated Worst rated View all If I had a pack labelled "plant food" and "not for human consumption" it would never even occur to me to ingest it. What sort of idiot do you have to be to do that? - The Alien , Andromeda, 28/8/2013 22:27 Click to rate Report abuse This just proves that for every drug banned another 10 more dangerous drugs will come in its place. I am not calling for a blanket legalisation of drugs but there has to be some sense in making the safer alternatives available legally to stop people taking these dangerous but legal drugs instead. Kids are taking this stuff because they can buy it on the internet or from a shop. They wrongly assume it won't kill them because of that. Where there is a will there is a way. Some of the strains of marijuana being sold by dealers now is so strong it is creating a whole section of society that walks around numbed to the world. I have seen first hand how it damages their impairment and ability to function at a low level in society let alone be a useful employee. Now, medical use of marijuana (the normal stuff that hippies were smoking in the 60's/70's) is absolutely proven to assist so many ailments it is criminal that it is still not legally available to those who need it. - Slyman , Nottingham, 28/8/2013 22:16 Click to rate Report abuse How many people die every year through taking prescription drugs? - Cityslacker , Leeds, 28/8/2013 22:00 Click to rate Report abuse Never mind - whatacroc , London, 28/8/2013 21:57 Rating 15 Rating 15 Rating 11

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Rating 2

All teenagers and people who would ever consider taking these awful drugs should be made to watch George Lambs show on Legal Highs which was aired on BBC3 a few years ago. It laid down the law in black & white . There were REAL chemists and doctors interviewed stating that it is actually safer to take the illegal drugs such as Cannabis and LSD as they have 50 years at least of research on the effects of these drugs. Unlike the awful "legal" alternatives. No one knows really whats in them. It also showed a group of people who took a cocktail of legal highs at a party in America and they all now are in a mental institution with a disease like Parkinson's. a vegetative state. They were like zombies. It's a disgrace that you can purchase these awful things online. Please anyone who reads this, DON'T. - Ayeesha , Fochabers. Bonnie Scotland, 28/8/2013 21:49 Click to rate Report abuse So what this article is actually saying is that less people die every year from "legal highs" than alcohol related incidents statistically! - Steve , Mitcham, United Kingdom, 28/8/2013 21:46 Click to rate Report abuse Youd have to be a fool to take them anyway. - Alex Bartlett , Reading UK, 28/8/2013 21:37 Click to rate Report abuse Play with fire and guess what happens? You get burnt! - astroplane , Coventry, 28/8/2013 21:29 Click to rate Report abuse Looks like they did not do their homework before legalising this drug. How ironic in that the death rate from illegal drugs is falling as opposed to legal drugs. - bigben, london, 28/08/13 16:29 Nobody has legalised them they are just not yet illegal. They should call them alternative psychoactives. - ken mist , paris, 28/8/2013 21:29 Click to rate Report abuse What is wrong with the teens now all on drugs? There is a major problem in society, glad I live in the UAE where there is no drugs, and safer for kids - DesertRose, Abu Dhabi, 28/08/2013 17:29 DesertRose - Drugs are everywhere even in the UAE. FACT. - Go on - give us a smile love! , London, 28/8/2013 21:26 Click to rate Report abuse Share this comment The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline. Rating 13 Rating 6 Rating 4 Rating 7 Rating 19 Rating 17

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