New club drug on the rise

February 18, 2011
The drug is called meow-meow and British club-goers have taken to it like a kitty to cat-nip, hospitalizing dozens and leaving lawmakers scrambling to legislate it out of existence. Now it’s Canada’s turn.

The drug is called meow-meow and British club-goers have taken to it like a kitty to cat-nip, hospitalizing dozens and leaving lawmakers scrambling to legislate it out of existence.

Now it’s Canada’s turn.

On Tuesday, a drug bust conducted throughout the Greater Toronto Area netted four kilos of mephedrone, the main culprit in England’s recent legislative drug war. Authorities here were so unfamiliar with the narcotic, an off-white powder often marketed as plant food or bath salts to circumvent European trafficking laws, that no one knew exactly what it was when drug officers stumbled upon the stash during an early morning raid.

“This was the first time we’d seen it,” Durham Regional Police Inspector Dave Wilson said. “I can only compare it to 1991, when we made our first seizure of crack cocaine.”

The drug – known by the street names meow-meow, MCAT, bubbles and drone – has appeared in small quantities in Newfoundland and Quebec. In all, Health Canada has identified just five samples from drug busts across the country.

But the recent seizure could signal an escalation in efforts to push the club drug on Canadian streets.

“Is it readily available out there or is this the first shipment and we just got lucky? I’m not sure,” said Inspector Tim Farquharson, of Peterborough Lakefield police, another agency involved in the bust. “We already have enough problems with crack and OxyContin here.”

In the U.K., mephedrone filled a void created by the rapidly declining quality of cocaine and ecstasy. Where street-level cocaine 10 years ago often sold at 66-per-cent purity, authorities in England say they are now seizing samples as low as 3-per-cent purity. Users were drawn to the drug on the promise of a brief but intense euphoria combining the best elements of cocaine and ecstasy.

What’s more, it was cheap, costing half the price of the $60 a gram that Britons were dropping on adulterated cocaine. “It proved very attractive for disillusioned cocaine users,” said Allen Morgan, a prominent expert witness in U.K. drug trafficking cases.

But its most appealing quality had to be its ambiguous legal status. “There were no controls and the police were unable to take any action,” Mr. Morgan said. “Essentially the drug was legal, clean and unadulterated and it took off. There hasn’t been a drug for a long time that has become so publicly prominent.”

Head shops began selling mephedrone over the counter and online. Scooter delivery services started up so users could order it to their doors like fresh pizza.

But serious health effects began emerging in late 2009 and 2010, with dozens of mephedrone users admitted to emergency rooms complaining of heart palpitations, anxiety, nausea, hypertension and vomiting. The British Parliament finally banned it in April of last year after media reports linking mephedrone to several deaths. Producers soon tweaked the drug’s chemistry enough to once again obscure its legality, prompting a cat-and-mouse game between drug-makers and legislators.

The law isn’t so vague in Canada. As an analogue of amphetamine, mephedrone is a Schedule 3 controlled substance. The Toronto-area bust – which included seizures of cocaine, marijuana and hashish – led to 19 arrests on 115 charges. The street value of the mephedrone was pegged at around $350,000.

“We’re trying to scramble and educate ourselves as to what this is,” Inspector Farquharson said. “And, at the same time, we’re hoping it’s a one-off.”

(Globe and Mail)

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