Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Horse tranquilliser used by clubbers is added to banned list



A HORSE tranquilliser popular as a hallucinogen among clubbers is to be added to the list of banned substances, the government announced yesterday.

Ketamine will become a Class C drug from 1 January.

The decision to ban it comes amid warnings that a rapidly growing number of substances which mimic the effects of illegal drugs are flooding the market in Scotland.

Drug workers say that sellers of legal highs and internet pharmacies are using untested permutations of drug compounds and herbs to boost sales and fill the gap left in the market by the banning of psilocybin magic mushrooms in July.

Yesterday, the Home Office minister Paul Goggins said that although ketamine use was relatively low in the UK, there had been an increase in use by clubbers in recent years.

"Ketamine presents serious health risks and must be subject to strict controls to provide a considerable deterrent to those seeking to import and supply the drug," he said.

The powerful hallucinogen - also nicknamed Special K, tekno smack and vitamin K - was invented in the Parke-Davies laboratories, in Michigan, the United States, in 1962. Despite its reputation as a veterinary tranquilliser it was used in US field hospitals in the Vietnam War and is still used medically for humans under the brand name Ketalar.

Its rise in popularity has been mirrored by the growing demand for so-called legal highs such as orange xtra, an alternative to ecstasy, speed balls that contain an extract of kratom, a Thai herbal stimulant, and piperazines, containing a blend of the stimulant benzylpiperazine (BZP) marketed as p.e.p pills. All are widely available for under £10 and rarely carry health warnings or advice.

Legal highs have hallucinogenic and or stimulant effects and are taken to keep the user alert, promote exhilaration or create visions. BZP is a Class 1 drug in the US along with LSD, cannabis and crack cocaine, but is legal in the UK.

Campaigners who spot trends through their work on the streets ahead of official agencies through working with homeless people moving from major cities such as Glasgow, Manchester and London, accused the Scottish Executive of "complacency" and of ignoring the new danger.

John Arthur, manager of Crew 2000, the Edinburgh drug advice service, said:
"There is this tremendous confusion that because they are legal they are safe.
"The Executive's focus is on things like heroin and methadone and they don't seem to want to get involved in what is a major area of concern for us."

Peter Anderson, support team manager at Streetwork UK, an Edinburgh-based project which takes counselling on to the streets, said: "Our main worry is the utter complacency of government. There is too much crystal-ball gazing and reliance on official reports which are merely a collection of statistics about things we knew about months if not years ago."

Annabel Goldie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said:
"No-one can afford to be complacent. If we are now getting warnings that a new set of dangers is on our streets and we have evidence from abroad then we must consider it and decide what steps to take to keep our youngsters from harm."

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "Government and our police forces are aware that there has been a recent increase in the use of so-called 'legal highs' by young people. However, the level of use is still very low.

"While classification of such substances is an entirely reserved matter, we understand that the Home Office has no current plans to introduce legislation to control such substances.

"However, the Home Office, together with the Scottish Executive will continue to monitor the situation and if further action is necessary to protect young people, then we will act," the spokesman said.


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