New psychoactive drug deaths double

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Deaths involving new psychoactive substances in England and Wales have almost doubled in a year, from 29 in 2011 to 52 in 2012, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). There was also a large increase in the number of death certificates mentioning PMA or PMMA, from just one in 2011 to 20 the following year, although the report states that ‘a small number of these deaths also mentioned ecstasy’.

 The number of deaths involving heroin or morphine ‘fell slightly’ in 2012, to 579. However, deaths involving the synthetic opioid tramadol – at 175 – were more than double the number recorded four years previously. The overall number of male drug misuse deaths fell by 9 per cent to 1,086, while female deaths fell by 1 per cent to 410.

Despite the continuing decline in heroin deaths, the ‘significant increases’ in deaths involving other drugs was worrying, said DrugScope chief executive Martin Barnes. ‘The number of deaths involving PMA is, for example, concerning. In all probability people would have believed they were taking ecstasy, but PMA is far more toxic while at the same time taking longer to take effect. This can make users believe that the pill isn’t working, encouraging them to increase the dose with sometimes fatal results.’

Meanwhile, the use of psychedelic drugs like LSD, peyote and psilocybin mushrooms does not increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems, according to a study of 130,000 people by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The study’s authors also claim ‘some significant associations’ between use of psychedelic drugs and fewer mental health problems. ‘After adjusting for other risk factors, lifetime use of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline or peyote, or past-year use of LSD was not associated with a higher rate of mental health problems or receiving mental health treatment,’ said co-author Pål-Ørjan Johansen, although the document does not ‘exclude the possibility’ that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups.

Early speculation that psychedelics could lead to mental health issues was based on ‘a small number of case reports and did not take into account either the widespread use of psychedelics or the not infrequent rate of mental health problems in the general population’ said co-author Teri Krebs.

Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales, 2012 at www.ons.gov.uk

Psychedelics and mental health: www.plosone.org