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Drug experts slam reports with 'misleading statistics' on legal high deaths

Experts have said many of the deaths recorded in the UK were in fact attributable to substances that were already illegal.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

RECENT REPORTS IN the UK has been criticised by drug experts for presenting “misleading statistics” on deaths linked to legal highs in 2012.

The report from the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths highlighted a considerable increase in deaths in Britain connected to the synthetic drugs from ten in 2009 to 68 in 2012.

In a letter written to scientific journal The Lancet from Dr Leslie King and Professor David Nutt from the Scientific Committee on Drugs, the experts said many of the deaths recorded in the report and widely attributed in the media to legal highs were in fact attributable to substances that were already illegal in the UK.

This includes the drug p-methoxyamphetamine (PMA) which has been a controlled drug in the UK since 1977.

Further examples include deaths attributed to khat or anabolic steroids, which are not new or classed as psychocative. The misuse of medicinal products such as phenazepam was also misrepresented as deaths from new psychoactive substances, they said.

Similar ‘misleading’ definitions of new psychoactive substances were used in the Office for National Statistics’ 2012 report on deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales, say the authors, with misuse of gammahydroxybutrate (GHB) accounting for 13 deaths even though this has been a controlled drug since 2003.

“There is…no simple answer to how many deaths were associated, let alone caused, by new psychoactive substances or even ‘legal highs’ in any given period,” write the authors. “If we are to develop a sensible drugs policy, such failings of data collection and presentation need to be rectified immediately.”

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