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Health, News, Programmes

Charities warn of Emerging Online Drug Culture

By Beth Edwards

Drug Agencies across Wales have warned that the illegal online trade of fake prescription drugs has left harm reduction agencies ‘running to catch up.’

There are around 20,000 problematic drug users in Wales, one of the biggest concerns facing drugs charities at the moment are fake valiums, known as MSJ’s.

In the latest episode of Wales This Week, to be shown at 7:30GMT tonight, we see a rehabilitation officer take a quick look online, and show the team just how easy they are to buy – and how desperate people are to get hold of them.

Dan Rowley, A Non-Opiate Drug Worker at the Kaleidoscope project in Newport, explains that these drugs are being imported from places like India, Russia and the Middle East, and that the people taking them are rarely sure of the dose contained within the tablet, or what their reaction to the drug will be;

“They are just little tiny tablets that are sprayed, with a Benzodiazepine, and that means that you can’t tell what dose it is.

“Some of them might contain two milligrams, some of them may contain six. There have been reports where they’ve been tested up to 25 and 30 milligrams, which is sometimes a lethal dose.”

Caroline Phipps, Director of Caerphilly based service, Drug Aid , says drug agencies cannot put out harm reduction messages, when they have no idea what these new drugs are made of, and what effect they have on the body;

“Certainly over recent times, we’ve seen sort of like a quiet revolution really, in people’s drug use and behaviour. We don’t have the information on the effects that these new drugs have on individuals and therefore it is quite challenging for a drugs service to then respond to those needs and provide adequate information, harm reduction information for people to keep themselves safe.”

She says the charity deals with the fall-out from MSJ’s on a daily basis;

“We have heard of people taking up to thirty or forty at one time, three days later, waking up and not having any recollection of what had happened in the previous three days, maybe have suffered injuries from falling down, but you know would not know what had happened, and you can understand the inherent dangers, within that in terms of your personal safety, and what you are doing, what you are getting involved in, and being able to manage your safety really.”

Kevin, 41, became addicted to fake prescription drugs after being offered them at work. He says his workplace was like ‘a drugs festival’ where every day he was offered substances including benzodiazepines, sometimes for as little as 50 pence a pill;

“A lot of the boys were taking them, they would just take them as a past time; they are all fed up with everyday life and people are trying to escape from it, and drugs isn’t the answer – it is for a bit you think – and then all of a sudden it hits you big time, and hurts your family and all the people around you.”

Luckily for Kevin he sought advice from Drug Aid, and is now helping others with similar problems, through a weekly music group. He warns of the real human cost of taking these, and other, illegal substances;

“If they could see what the end of the road their heading down if they start taking these drugs, they wouldn’t take them in the first place. I’ve lost quite a lot of friends from overdose from taking different drugs, I was lucky I got into music and the gang I grew up with got into heroin and they are dying one by one – I think I was lucky because I got into the music.”

“I am sure we are all here to celebrate our lives and we aren’t, and we could be. You know it’s just finding the right things which turn people on you know, and I know music is not for everyone but I think it should be because it is a very important part of our lives. Birds don’t sing for nothing, they haven’t got two voice boxes o they can harmonise with themselves for nothing. You know it’s like music heals people. It’s healed me.”

  • Kevin can be seen, alongside other ex drug users who utilised Drug Agency help in Gwent, tonight 7:30pm on Wales This Week, ITV1 Wales.
  • Beth Edwards works for ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week – follow her on twitter @bethedwardsuk
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