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Mephedrone, the latest legal high to hit Britain’s clubbing scene, is to be classified as a Class B drug within weeks and a ban on importation was put into force yesterday.

Mephedrone

Over the past few months a new legal high has swept across Britain's clubbing scene. However the government has just announced that this new drug, Mephedrone (also known as Meow Meow, MCAT and plant food) is to be classified Class B within weeks.

Speaking of the upcoming ban of the drug Home Secretary Alan Johnson said “...we can be in the forefront of dealing with this whole family of drugs...this will stop unscrupulous manufacturers and others peddling different but similarly harmful drugs.”

If they are so concerned with the potentially fatal nature of drugs, why then has the government not made alcohol and cigarettes Class A drugs? So far Mephedrone has been “linked” to 25 deaths. More than 9,000 people died in Britain in 2008 because of alcohol related deaths and 83,900 deaths were smoking related.

The reason behind this imbalance becomes clear when you look at how much money the government is raking in each year from taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. In 2008/9 the government made £10 billion from the sale of cigarettes and £8.3 billion from alcohol in 2007/8. Worse still for the government any move against the use of alcohol and cigarettes would antagonize big business.

Even if the government had the will, facts show you can’t solve the problem of drug misuse by making these substances illegal. The failure of prohibition, the criminalization of marijuana, LSD and other drugs have merely driven drug use underground or left the provision of a wealthy minority who are rarely the target of preventative policing.

Therefore this decision raises the question; does making drugs illegal really “deal” with the problem of substance misuse as Alan Johnson seems to think? A survey conducted by National Statistics for the NHS reveals that 47.9% of “young people” have used illicit drugs at some point. The fact that these drugs are illegal certainly hasn’t stopped people trying them if they want to.

What it does mean however is that none of these people know what it is that they are taking. Illegal drugs are more often than not ‘cut’ with a cocktail of substances including rat poison, brick dust, and sugar. This only increases the dangers. A wrap of cocaine or a handful of ecstasy pills do not come with an instruction leaflet on how to use them safely.

Illegal substance use is like walking across a road blindfolded - you may get across safely but there is a serious chance you won’t. The trick is not to ban roads or traffic, but to remove the blindfold. When it comes to drugs, as with any risk-taking activity, it is vital to ensure people are informed about the risks they are taking.

There is no question there are social problems associated with drug misuse. Once again this raises the question of legal drugs. Who has not witnessed a drunken fight or seen inebriated “youths” causing havoc on the streets on a Saturday night?

A serious examination of where these problems come from would have to consider the sources of frustration and stress in society. This in turn would raise questions about overwork, lack of job satisfaction, frustrated aspirations and poverty.

Rather than considering these issues, the government would rather ban a drug that creates a feeling of euphoria.. The problem is that Mephedrone is cheap and one pill can last the whole night and its use diverts money that would otherwise be spent on booze away from big-business.
If people are going to take drugs whether they are legal or not, and the evidence clearly indicates this is the case, it’s best to ensure they are quality-controlled and accessible in a safe environment. Doing this will reduce the number of overdoses.

Martin Blakebrough , ex-member of The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, told Counterfire “I am disgusted by what has happened as they have not waited for the research and have just done what they are told by corporate interests. I think the government have bowed to the tabloids that have sensationalized the situation. The deaths in Scunthorpe for example, the boys had consumed alcohol as well as mephedrone which would have probably killed them whereas mephedrone alone probably would not.”

In reality, to make drugs illegal criminalizes people, not drugs. The state ends up blaming the victims. Those who have a serious drug addiction are forced into petty crime in order to fund their addiction. Rather than spending money on creating treatment centres, rehabilitation programs, needle exchanges, controlled dispensing centres and detailed information about how to safely use drugs, the government spends billions on policing aimed at targeting drug users who are usually the poorest, most at-risk people in society.

As Nikki Attree, an ex heroin user, explains, “when I was using heroin society made me feel like a second class citizen, in fact a third class citizen. For example in A&E if they knew I was a drug user they would make me wait for hours because they thought it was self-inflicted. The police stopped me constantly for no apparent reason which just made my situation worse.”

Maybe if the government looked at why people took drugs in the first place they would have a better idea of how to tackle this problem. When you start to look at this problem it becomes clear that the issue is much more deep rooted in the way in which society is run. Gilly Miskelly, a drugs worker in the voluntary sector, explains, “I have worked with people who have had drug problems for 23 years.

In almost every case these people have come from horrendous backgrounds. They take drugs in order to escape the reality of their life. Most have been homeless, unemployed and have been offered no alternative throughout their life. At every step society has offered no support in their basic needs and are in constant conflict with the law, this more often than not pushes people back into drug use.”

Different attitudes to different types of drug users reveals the heavy class bias of the ‘war on drugs’. It's well known that within the city of London cocaine use is out of control, but you never see police raids on city parties. The National Treatment Agency recently published a survey asking service providers if their clients are free of heroin or crack, cocaine was not mentioned.

Making yet another drug illegal will only further criminalize people who need help the most. It will endanger more lives and waste millions on policing. The money should be spent on what is really needed to tackle drug problems; adequate housing, more drug education and real job opportunities.

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