January issue

 Staying grounded

Can legislation be meaningful to tackle highs?

The dangers of ‘legal highs’ have been hitting the headlines over the past few months, and the issue has inevitably brought with it its share of myth and conjecture. You only have to think about the storm in the ACMD’s teacup at the end of last year to see why the experts are circling the issue warily on all sides. Mephedrone, known as miaow (or meow), is prolifically available online in such innocent guises as plant food – little wonder then that it’s prone to experimentation, with the drug and alcohol workers featured in our cover story reporting users as young as 12. Can an attempt to ban these drugs have any effect? Release has already voiced scepticism, accusing the government of chasing its tail in announcing that such drugs will become illegal. It will be interesting to see how the newly chaired ACMD’s work on mephedrone is received – as well as that of Prof Nutt’s new Independent Council on Drug Harms (page 4). In the meantime, as trainer Renato Masetti says in our article, it’s important that drug teams know the specifics about these drugs so they are confident in treating clients and know how to dispense essential harm reduction advice. As we begin a new year in which ‘recovery’ is the only flavour for many, the anthrax cases among heroin users in Scotland are a stark reminder that whatever culture changes are taking place or being proposed, basic safety in public health policy can never be neglected. Alongside Peter Martin’s optimistic case for recovery orientated treatment on page 10, Sara McGrail reminds us that political point-scoring must never threaten to unpick the vital progress in drug treatment over the past ten years. As she says, choice in treatment is vital, and we must resist every echo of the old abstinence v harm reduction divide. Whatever vote-courting drug policies are being drafted, it’s vital that such complex issues are not distilled to public-pleasing soundbites.

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