Manchester drug experts and activists are warning people against the result of the government’s temporary ban of the legal high methoxetamine, or MXE.
The government invoked new banning powers and for the first time used a temporary class drug order (TCDO) to forbid the supply of the legal high.
Methoxetamine, with street name mexxy, MXE, ROFLCOPTER, was banned at the end of March for up to 12 months after a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which assessed the drug in less than 20 working days.
Michael Linnell from Manchester-based drug and alcohol charity Lifeline expressed doubts about the new powers deployed to prohibit methoxetamine, a ketamine analogue.
“It is almost the worst system in the world that you could possibly have”, he said.
Anyone caught making, supplying or importing the drug will face up to 14 years in prison and unlimited fine.
During the period of 12 months, the ACMD will look into the risks associated with the drug and decide whether to permanently prohibit it.
“I think it highly unlikely that they are going to turn around after a year saying we can have that one, it can stay legal,” said Mr Linnell.
Mr Linnell says that 15 different types of new substances that are currently making it into the country are raising concerns about the risks associated with their use.
“What will now happen is the ACMD will look at it for a year. In the meantime, it will be replaced by something far more dangerous.
“You squeeze the bubble somewhere and it pops up somewhere else you don’t you,” he said.
Sarah McCulloch, chair of Re:Vision Drug Policy Network, said: “While the government announcing an intention to conduct proper research into the effects and potential harms of a drug is much more preferable to a reliance to knee-jerk reactions and hyperbole, no-one had really heard of mexxy before the government banned it.
“By banning mexxy, it suddenly has allured to people wanting to know why it was banned, and more people will now probably use it than would have done if the government had left it to the more obscure corners of the internet.”
The process started after mexxy was wrongly linked to the death of four people. The ACMD later said that there were no confirmed deaths related to methoxetamine in the UK.
However, a referral letter from the Minister for Crime Prevention and Anti-Social Behaviour and a recommendation from the ACMD to Home Secretary Theresa May followed. This resulted in the temporary ban.
The Crime Prevention Minister Lord Henley said: “Making this drug illegal sends a clear message to users and those making and supplying it that we are stepping up our fight against substances which are dangerous and ruin lives of victims and their families.”
Prior to the ban, you could buy little methoxetamine pillsfrom head shops or online from over 200 UK-based websites.
“The head shops are no longer selling methoxetamine. If you as a person had a lot of methoxatamine for your personal use, you can quite happily go on and use it. It is the supply that this temporary class order is supposed to stop”, said Mr Linnell.
He said that MXE rose in popularity due to shortage of ketamine, the third most popular illegal drug in the country.
“They changed the legislation in India and most of our supplies were coming from India where it was still legal.
“Methoxetamine became popular among already existing ketamine users because of shortage. Methoxetamine is similar and most people say it is longer acting and more intense than ketamine.”
In the UK, ketamine was legal until 2006 when in the included in the Misuse of Drugs Act as class C drug.
“Interestingly, since 2006 the use has doubled. Banning actually increased the use,” Mr Linnell said.
“They are already ketamine analogues on the market that seem to be replacing it. The real danger is the development of an illicit market. There are so many different analogues that are potentially far more dangerous.”
According to the November 2011 Global Drug Survey, 4.2% of the 7,700 respondents in the UK reported using methoxetamine in the last year.
About 2.4% reported using methoxetamine in the last month.
Ms McCulloch said: “Prohibiting production and supply likely means the purity of the drug will plummet, as did the purity of mephedrone after it was banned, endangering the safety of users.
“While a temporary ban, which refrains from punishing users, is better than immediate criminalisation, what we're still seeing is the effort to criminalise substances as they become popular is driving people to use far less well-known and researched ‘designer drugs’, for which no-one knows the risks. Only proper control and regulation is going to protect the public and the individual.”
In light of new government powers to temporary ban legal highs and experts’ concerns about users’ safety, MM sought the opinion of the user. Two MXE users agreed to talk to MM. The interviews will follow later this week.